Supreme Constitutional Court in new standoff with Parliament

Judges at the Supreme Constitutional Court have leveled a scathing criticism of the People’s Assembly over proposed legislation that would change the court's legal review process as well as how its president is appointed, among other changes.

The court plans to convene an urgent meeting to discuss a response to the bill, which it described as “dubious.”

The court’s chief commissioner, Hatem Bagato, labeled the proposal — which Parliament's Proposals and Complaints Committee  approved on Monday — a “new massacre of judges.” Parliament is trying to terrorize the court to serve its private interests, he said, and is seeking to void the court’s judicial oversight on legislation and render its decisions nonbinding.

According to the bill, the court should review the constitutionality of legislation before it is passed into law instead of after as is the current practice.

The bill also changes the way the court president is appointed.

The existing Article 5 of the law governing the court stipulates that its president is elected from among its three most senior judges through a secret poll by court members. The new legislation would both expand the pool of eligible judges to include senior vice presidents of the constitutional court and the State Council, among others, as well as putting the final decision into the hands of Egypt's president.

A judicial source told Al-Masry Al-Youm that during the emergency meeting the court would discuss its response to Parliament’s attempt to change its formation, which includes 20 judges with 45 to 50 years of judicial experience.

The sources defended the current judges, saying they had stood up against the despotism of the regime with rulings that preserved public liberties, and also disbanded Parliament twice under former President Hosni Mubarak.

“When a political group starts working on reshuffling the court’s judges to serve its interests, that would mean undermining the rule of law and judicial independence,” the source said, likely in reference to Parliament’s Islamist majority. “Bills submitted to the People’s Assembly on reforming the court are questionable and constitute a blatant infringement on the 40-year-old body. They are part of a broader scheme to restructure state institutions to match the goals of some factions that enjoy a parliamentary majority.”

Liberal Wafd Party MP Tarek Sabbaq said that the legislation may be an attempt to pressure the court to prevent it from ruling in a separate matter that the law on parliamentary elections is unconstitutional, which some fear would lead to the dissolution of the current Parliament.

Earlier in May, the court said its board of commissioners would conclude within a month its report on a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the elections law.

On Tuesday, the Advisory Council to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces urged Parliament to backtrack on discussions of the proposed bill, and called on the military council to intervene to protect the court, whose head also presides on the Presidential Elections Commission. The commission is running the upcoming presidential election on 23 and 24 of this month.

Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm

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