With Egypt’s parliament now in session, everyone is looking up to it for legislative reform. At a conference held earlier this month by the Canada Egypt Business Council (CEBC) on “The Egyptian Judiciary and Challenges of the Current Stage”, the event guest speaker was Minister of Justice Ahmed al-Zend who spoke about the anticipated economic legislation and Judiciary reform.
“Solving the problems of any society is always possible provided a fair legal system exists to correct wrongdoing and restore public rights. But if corruption reaches the judiciary, it is an indication of the imminent fall of the State,” said CEBC Chairman Motaz Raslan in his welcome speech. Mr Raslan said that during the post-Arab Spring years and the rise of Islamist power, Egypt faced many crushing crises and bloody conflicts that affected all social classes and led to a downturn in the economy. However, in 2013 the people revolted and rid Egypt of the Islamists, calling for a civil State to adopt the principles of freedom and justice. Now, he said, legislative reform had become necessary to ensure that prompt justice was served.
Confidence in the judiciary
Mr Raslan praised Judge Zend’s stance against the Muslim Brotherhood Islamist regime in 2012 – 2013 and expressed his confidence in the integrity and fairness of the Egyptian judiciary. He concluded his welcome speech by quoting French President Charles de Gaulle, who said that if the French judiciary were safe and sound then France too was safe and sound. “I did no more than my duty, just like many other Egyptians,” said Judge Zend in his response to Mr Raslan’s praise, He was referring to those who so bravely stood up to the oppression of the Islamist regime.
Mr Zend tackled the problems of the Egyptian judicial system. He criticised people who find fault with court rulings. “Court rulings are not negotiable and not discussable,” he said.
The slow judicial process, however, came under fire from Mr Zend. “We all aspire to achieve prompt justice,” he said, “but many impediments hinder justice from following a faster pace.”
The justice minister explained that the reason for the slow judicial process was mainly technical and was largely caused by the large number of cases that included huge files that judges had to study and scrutinise. Some of these files, especially in cases related to terrorism, exceeded 25,000 pages.
“The Ministry of Justice is currently working on automating the judicial system, especially cases related to the economic courts,” Mr Zend said. “The new automated system will speed up the judicial process. The ministry has also added 12 new courts of First Instance to the already existing ones. A major goal we are trying to achieve is the improvement of the public notary system. Our ministry has signed a joint protocol with the ministries of communications, finance and planning to automate the notary system, to be implemented by a private company, and restructure its hierarchy.”
Mr Zend said that despite the social and political turmoil that had ravaged the nation in the past few years, a number of laws were issued such as the new Investment Law. Other bills drafted and awaiting approval include the Unified Nile Law which aims to protect the Nile waters, expected to be approved shortly by the new parliament.
Reforming the judicial system also involved finding solutions to the chronic problems of Egyptian women, Mr Zend said. “It is completely inhuman that some judges still rule that a man must give his ex-wife a monthly alimony of EGP20-30. We have also established courts for cases of violence against women and children and are working on appointing more female judges.” Mr Zend praised the judicial systems of Morocco and Tunisia, where female judges constitute almost 25 per cent of the judicial corps and where the issue of polygamy is strictly regulated in such a way that substantially reduces family disputes.
Legislative reform is especially needed in the economic sector to help attract foreign investment, Mr Raslan complained. “It usually takes a very long time before investment cases are resolved in Egyptian courts; foreign investors sometimes resort to international courts to evade the slow judicial process in Egypt and the delay in implementing court rulings. Investors cannot risk incurring losses as a result of slow litigation process; judicial reform is therefore imperative to provide a better investment climate,” Mr Raslan said.
Although the Investment Law was recently amended, Mr Zend said, the real problem lay in the implementation of the law and in the unnecessary obstacles for investors.The dispute resolution committee has already resolved 125 cases, yet 300 more cases are still awaiting settlement. “One cannot attain perfection in a few months,” Mr Zend said, “ I believe we still have about two years of hard work to resolve the heap of pending cases.”
The help of investors and businessmen was much needed to achieve judicial reform that concerned investment, Mr Zend said. He also said that the single window system was being implemented in several courthouses, in addition to an electronic litigation system to facilitate and expedite the judicial process and overcome the problem of the carelessness of some courthouse employees.
Integrated judicial complex
Mr Zend spoke about other problems often encountered by investors, including the unjust pricing of land; bankruptcy; and conflicting decisions taken by the various authorities. He said that most of these problems were tackled in the new Investment Law and that some were moved to the Special Economic Zones law. The Ministry of Legal and Parliamentary Affairs was also created to help solve legal disputes. Finally, Mr Zend criticised the existence of 25 legislative bodies in Egypt, in addition to State ministries and authorities, which was a key factor behind issuing conflicting legislation.
The Minister of Justice said President Sisi had approved a plan to establish an integrated judicial complex which would include a judicial academy. The President labelled the project as important and urgent; however, due to lack of space, the project was relocated from New Cairo to the New Administrative Capital which has yet to see light.
27 January 2016