Egypt: arbitrary and unfair removal of judges must be reversed
The ICJ today calls for the reversal of the Supreme Disciplinary Board’s decisions to force into retirement 47 judges following two separate, mass proceedings known as the “July 2013 Statement Case” and the “Judges for Egypt Case”, which concern over 60 judges.
Today’s final decision in the “July 2013 Statement Case” forcibly removed 32 judges from their offices.
It comes after all of the 15 judges referred to disciplinary proceedings in the “Judges for Egypt” were forcibly removed from their offices last Monday.
In a third case on 7 March 2016, the Disciplinary Board removed from office Zakaria Abdel Aziz, a former President of the Judges Club (Egypt’s representative body of judges) and a leading advocate of judicial independence.
“The intensity of Egypt’s attacks against individual judges is reaching a frightening level,” said Said Benarbia.
“By removing judges from the office following mass, arbitrary and unfair disciplinary proceedings, the authorities are purging from the judiciary the very voices that have promoted its independence, and sending a chilling message to others who might challenge the ongoing crackdown on fundamental rights and freedoms in Egypt,” he added.
The ICJ had previously raised concerns about fairness of these proceedings as well as the nature of the charges against the concerned judges.
In the “July 2013 Statement Case” and the “Judges for Egypt Case,” the Disciplinary Board found that the judges had been involved in politics and were therefore “unfit” to carry out their functions.
Article 73 of Egypt’s Judicial Authority Law prohibits judges from engaging in “political activity”.
This prohibition was interpreted by the Disciplinary Board to include “discussing or commenting on legislative and governmental decisions as long as it does not pertain to a case that he [the judge] is looking into as part of his judicial function”.
The ICJ considers that the interpretation by the Disciplinary Board could result in arbitrary limitations to the judges’ right to freedom of expression, assembly and association, well beyond any restrictions that could possibly be justified as necessary to preserve the dignity of their office and the impartiality and independence of the judiciary.
Furthermore, these disciplinary proceedings have failed to meet international standards of fairness, the ICJ says.
The Geneva-based organization previously highlighted procedural flaws in the proceedings against the judges such as failure to be notified properly, to be represented before the Board and to be provided with adequate time and facility to prepare a defense.
“The Egyptian authorities must reinstate all judges that have been removed from their office as a result of unfair and arbitrary proceedings”, said Benarbia.
“Furthermore, they must amend the Judicial Authority Law to ensure that disciplinary offences are clearly and precisely defined within the law; that the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly in a manner consistent with the dignity of the office and the impartiality and independence of the judiciary does not constitute a disciplinary offence; and that the disciplinary procedure is fair and does not undermine the independence and impartiality of the judiciary,” he added.
Nader Diab, Associate Legal Adviser of the ICJ Middle East and North Africa Programme, t: +216 51727023; e: nader.diab(a)icj.org
The UN Basic Principles on the Independence of the Judiciary, which were adopted by the UN in 1985 and elaborate on states’ obligations under international law, include the following provisions:
- In accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, members of the judiciary are like other citizens entitled to freedom of expression, belief, association and assembly; provided, however, that in exercising such rights, judges shall always conduct themselves in such a manner as to preserve the dignity of their office and the impartiality and independence of the judiciary.
- Judges shall be free to form and join associations of judges or other organizations to represent their interests, to promote their professional training and to protect their judicial independence. (…)
- A charge or complaint made against a judge in his/her judicial and professional capacity shall be processed expeditiously and fairly under an appropriate procedure. The judge shall have the right to a fair hearing. The examination of the matter at its initial stage shall be kept confidential, unless otherwise requested by the judge.
- Judges shall be subject to suspension or removal only for reasons of incapacity or behaviour that renders them unfit to discharge their duties.
- All disciplinary, suspension or removal proceedings shall be determined in accordance with established standards of judicial conduct.
- Decisions in disciplinary, suspension or removal proceedings should be subject to an independent review. This principle may not apply to the decisions of the highest court and those of the legislature in impeachment or similar proceedings.
Egypt- removal of judges-press release-2016-ARA (full text, Arabic, in PDF)