Egypt's Shura Council discusses controversial judiciary law

Ahram Online, Saturday 25 May 2013

Egypt's Islamist-led upper house of parliament opens discussion into controversial amendments to the Judicial Authority Law; judges continue to reject amendments, house speaker says discussion 'preliminary'

Egypt's Shura Council begins discussion of the contentious Judicial Authority Law Saturday amid disagreements among MPs on whether it is the right time to do so.

Existing debate between MPs in the Islamist-dominated legislative body prior to Saturday's session was mainly on whether the council should still go ahead with the discussion while the presidency and the judiciary are in the process of coordinating a "justice conference" — an initiative adopted by President Morsi to reconcile with the judges. Part of the conference's activities will be to establish the judges' vision on judicial authority law amendments and prepare a draft the president said he would submit to the Shura Council himself for review.

For his part, speaker of the Shura Council Ahmed Fahmi said that Saturday's session would only be "preliminary" and tackle details of the proposal, adding that if the council approves referral of the amendments to the Legislative Committee, the latter will then begin a series of discussions in which judges will engage.

The proposed amendments to the Judicial Authority Law, presented in April by the moderate Islamist Wasat Party and endorsed by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, caused uproar among judges in the ongoing crisis between the judiciary and Islamists.

The proposed bill reduces the retirement age for judges from 70 to 60, which would effectively pension off about a quarter of Egypt's 13,000 serving judges.

MPs who proposed the law argue that the retirement age was gradually increased from 60 to 70 during the rule of ousted president Hosni Mubarak, in order to prolong the terms of those judges loyal to the former regime.

A number of leftist and liberal MPs have boycotted Saturday's Shura Council session.

The months-long standoff between Egypt's presidency and the judiciary began in earnest in November, when Morsi issued a decree sacking Mubarak-era Prosecutor General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud and replacing him with Judge Talaat Abdullah.

The move prompted uproar among much of the judiciary, with a number of judges accusing Morsi of infringing on judicial independence. According to Egyptian law, they argued, the Supreme Judicial Council is the only entity with the right to appoint a new prosecutor general.

On 19 April, the Muslim Brotherhood organised a Friday rally to demand a "purge" of Egypt's judiciary, in a move that some analysts feared would further damage the group's relations with the nation's judges. Opposition activists from the National Salvation Front organized a symbolic demonstration in front of the Shura Council on Saturday afternoon, during the session, to protest the bill.

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