Egypt’s anti-terrorism fight hamstrung by slow courts
CAIRO - Veteran lawyer Khalid Fouad has concluded that Egypt’s justice system is not working well.
Fouad has been trying to get a ruling in favour of one of his clients from one of the nation’s courts for 11 years. However, a judgment seems to be very distant in the case as well as in hundreds of thousands of other in Egypt’s courts.
“Some of my clients even die before getting verdicts from the courts,” Fouad said. “Sometimes I have to deal with the successors of my clients who do not live long enough to see rulings issued by the courts.”
Egypt’s justice system moves at a snail’s pace, leaving litigants frustrated as they wait to see justice done. Millions of litigants, lawyers and suspects are locked in protracted court procedures across this country in what seems to be an endless cycle.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi expressed desperation with the pace of the justice system on June 30th during the funeral of chief prosecutor Hesham Barakat, who was killed in a car bomb attack in eastern Cairo.
“These laws and these courts will not do,” Sisi said angrily during the funeral, asking the nation’s judges to speed up their work to deal with cases.
Sisi’s expression of desperation comes at a time when Egypt’s courts seem to be incapable of quickly and effectively dealing with the terrorism cases that are piling up.
Egypt’s former president Hosni Mubarak was tried on charges of ordering the killing of hundreds of demonstrators in 2011 and financial corruption for four years before he was acquitted in 2015.
Terrorism experts say the slowness of the justice system will render Egypt’s efforts to fight terrorism ineffective.
In 2011, there were 13 million cases in courts across Egypt, according to the state-run Central Agency for Public Mobilisation and Statistics. Observers say the number might have increased by 20% since then, while the government works to bring people accused of terrorism-related offences to court.
The government has also been actively cracking down on the Muslim Brotherhood and ordering its members to court under accusations they are responsible for Egypt’s security turmoil. By any means, 13 million cases is a huge number of cases for Egypt’s 16,000 judges to handle, legal experts say.
Justice Osama al-Feel, the head of the Appeals Court in the southern province of Assiut, says judges do their best to finalise their work as quickly as possible.
“Most of the time is wasted during court hearings and arguments,” Feel said. “As for the judges, they waste no time and are able to issue a verdict in any given case within a month as of the end of court hearings and arguments.”
The solution, according to Feel, is for some disputes to be solved outside the courts.
Egypt established its family courts in 2004 with the aim of dealing with tens of thousands of marriage disputes and divorce requests outside of civilian courts.
The courts include social experts who try to solve couples’ complaints before they turn into civil cases. Marriage disputes used to take years in the courts before wives were given the right to divorce or alimony.
In 1994, the government also issued the arbitration law with the aim of solving some legal disputes away from the courts, too. The law, however, is no longer effective.
Signalling its desperation with the pace of the work in the courts and its desire to deal effectively with terrorism cases away from any extrajudicial measures, the government recently issued an anti-terror bill that includes possible death sentences for individuals or groups involved in terrorist attacks.
However, Fouad, the veteran lawyer, says Egypt doesn’t need new laws, noting that present ordinances include tough penalties for terrorists.
He suggests increasing the number of judges by enlisting help from the Egypt Bar Association and its 500,000 experienced members. Egypt’s judicial authority law, which has never been applied because the Judges’ Club — the non-governmental guild of the nation’s judges — objected to it, calls for increasing the number of judges by enlisting help from experienced lawyers.
“This can make larger the number of judges dealing with cases in the courts,” Fouad said. “There are good solutions that can speed up the work of the courts, but the fact is that the government is not serious about finding radical solutions to this problem.”