A Statement by the Lebanese Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary

2017-09-19    |   

A Statement by the Lebanese Coalition for an Independent and Transparent Judiciary

Editor’s Note: On July 19, 2017, the Lebanese Supreme Judicial Council called upon judges to go on strike following parliament’s enactment of a law that compromises their financial safeguards. After some 20 days of strike, a coalition made up of 26 Lebanese rights-based organizations, unions, and professional associations issued the following statement in support of the movement and the judges’ demands.


We, human rights organizations, have witnessed the longest strike by judges in the history of Lebanon. It lasted over 20 days. This strike began on July 19, 2017 following parliament’s endorsement of a bill authorizing the government to reconsider the funding resources and  benefits [to members] of the Cooperative Fund of judges. Despite the importance and causes of the strike, political authorities have largely been apathetic to it.


Accordingly, pursuant to the objectives of the coalition, the foremost of which is “the promotion of a culture of independence of the judiciary”, and “solidarity with any movement for judges to reinforce that independence”; and, in order to clarify the issues to public opinion, we state the following:


1. Assigning the government to review sectoral support policies, including benefits of the judges’ cooperative fund, impinges on a range of their fundamental rights; most importantly full health coverage, school premiums, and housing loan bonds. This is a violation of the criteria of financial independence of the judiciary. Moreover, it violates the Constitution under the principle of the inadmissibility of reducing any constitutional guarantees without finding fair alternatives (Decision No. 5/2000, issued by the Constitutional Council on June 27, 2000).


2. When determining the salaries of judges, their pay should reflect the noble objective of their job and people’s expectations of them. It should also be commensurate to the salaries of members of the legislative and executive authorities to ensure the equal treatment of powers and prevent the domination of one power over another. All of the aforementioned is stipulated in the mandating reasons of Law No. 284/1993 which treated judges' salaries as separate from state employees’.


3. Having reviewed parliamentary debates and media statements by a number of political officials, we notice that they justified the impingement upon judges’ financial rights by stating that they are not satisfied with the productivity of those who do not work. Without downplaying the the dysfunctionality that afflicts  judicial work (we are very keen on conducting a large-scale workshop to address this flaw), we reject a political diagnosis of the factors of this flaw and we reject the method adopted by them to address it, based on the following:


  1. The largest dysfunction in judicial performance is related to the poor regulation of the judiciary. Under current laws and practices, political authorities remain responsible for such dysfunction. This is borne by the suspension of judicial transfers since 2010 as a result of political forces bargaining to put their hands on sensitive positions in the judiciary. It should be noted here that the executive authority is the body that appoints the attorney-general at the Court of Cassation (i.e., the head of public prosecutions) as well as  8 out of 10 members of the Supreme Judicial Council in addition to all members of the Judicial Inspection Authority. Furthermore, judges remain individually vulnerable and susceptible to interference in the absence of fundamental safeguards such as the principle of non-transfer of judges without their consent. They can become isolated and easy to target when deprived of the freedom of expression and the right to establish solidarity associations to defend their independence. Even in cases where the flaw is due to individual mistakes, a large number of such mistakes is related to political pressure or interference and can be immune from accountability thanks to political cover for this or that judge.

  2. Regardless of who is responsible for judicial dysfunction, addressing it by reducing the judges’ financial safeguards is useless for two reasons:


1 . Such punishment affects all judges including those who work with wholehearted devotion. Such an approach contradicts the basic tenets of justice which entails fair accountability whereby the devoted are rewarded and the negligent are punished, and under which accusations and generalizations are not randomly thrown around.


2. This measure is devoid of any intention or endeavor to improve and develop judicial performance, and is even quite counterproductive as it further deepens the gap in the judiciary. Reducing financial safeguards would scare away the best of judges and prevent the recruitment of good elements in the world of legal practice or in universities to the judiciary. In addition, it would make judges more subject to influence and interference. It is as if the deputies have decided to destroy the judiciary on the pretext that it is dysfunctional, not to mention the negative impact such will have on the state as a whole.


Accordingly, the coalition asserts that it is not possible to build a state in the proper sense without a strong independent judiciary. Any threat to the independence of the judiciary is a threat to the right of every citizen (especially vulnerable ones) in resorting to an independent and competent judge. On the other hand, any interference in the judiciary is the power of authority prevailing over the rule of law.


The issue at stake is not only a matter of dignity concerning  judges as a category [state officials], but a national and constitutional issue relating to all citizens and their right to dignity, justice and freedom.


The coalition therefore:


  • Affirms its support for Lebanese judges in their longest protest to date. It supports their right and their duty to use the necessary means to defend the independence of the judiciary, particularly the right to establish associations. According to the experiences of several countries, such associations have proved to be the most effective means in the face of any future interference or encroachment upon the independence of the judiciary.


  • Should the bill be enacted, the coalition calls on MPs to submit a challenge before the Constitutional Council against the provision relating to the cooperative fund, on the basis of the principle of separation of powers and Article 20 of the Constitution. If their appeal is rejected, they should submit an urgent law to protect the financial safeguards for judges.


  • Calls upon political authorities to respond to judges' demands to set their salaries in a manner that respects the noble objective of the job expected of them, and in commensuration with the salaries of members of the legislative and executive authorities to prevent the domination of one power over another.


  • Calls on Lebanese President Michel Aoun to launch a broad national dialogue workshop in coordination with the Supreme Judicial Council and with the participation of lawyers, academics, deputies, human rights organizations represented by our coalition, and judicial bodies. The aim of the workshop is to  discuss the legislative and regulatory reforms necessary for judicial affairs and to reinforce the independence and transparency of the judiciary. The time has come to deal with the issue of independence and reform of the judiciary as a social priority.


  • Calls on the Beirut and North Lebanon bar associations, all social forces, and  the media to support the efforts of the Supreme Judicial Council and of judges to guarantee their financial rights and independence for the benefit of all citizens.


This article is an edited translation from Arabic.

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