Statement by the Independence of the Judiciary Coalition on Mikati’s “Coup”: Usurping Judicial Authority Twice in One Month

Statement by the Independence of the Judiciary Coalition on Mikati’s “Coup”: Usurping Judicial Authority Twice in One Month

On 22 February 2023, Caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati sent a letter to several bodies asking them to take measures against Appellate Public Prosecutor in Mount Lebanon Ghada Aoun for continuing her investigation into the case of the 9 billion dollars smuggled abroad after 17 October 2019. Remarkably, this stance came on the basis of letters his office had received from the lawyers of two banks telling him that Aoun, in violation of the Code of Civil Procedure, continues to prosecute them even though they have filed a maljudging case against her. Makati repeated verbatim the content of these letters – thereby turning himself into a platform for the banks – and ultimately delivered a pseudo-judgment holding that Aoun has overstepped her authority by continuing her work: “A judge facing a liability suit cannot take any action concerning the person who filed it irrespective of whether the judge has been served the suit or how earnest it is, which is exclusively up to the competent judicial authority to decide”.


Based on Mikati’s letter, Minister of Interior Bassam Mawlawi sent another letter to the general directorates of State Security and Internal Security asking them not to aid or execute any order or decision issued by Aoun in any case wherein a maljudging suit has been filed against her, until a judicial authority has adjudicated it.


Hence, both ministers were clearly content to become a political arm of the prosecuted banks in their quest to stay Aoun’s hand. Of course, this effect will extend indefinitely because the judicial authority with jurisdiction over maljudging cases, which Mikati did not dare name (the Full Bench of the Court of Cassation), essentially does not exist because most of its members have retired and a political decision by Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has blocked their replacement.


Therefore, the coalition would like to express the following:


A Criminal Encroachment on the Separation of Powers


The prime minister and interior minister may have committed the executive branch’s most grievous encroachment on the judicial branch, one that abolishes the separation of powers and treats the judiciary as though it is part of the public administration. This encroachment in and of itself constitutes several offenses, from interfering in the judiciary (419) and obstructing the implementation of judicial decisions (371) to usurping judicial authority (306) and various crimes of influence peddling and abusing authority. It is astonishing that the banks’ lawyers would resort to Mikati to stay Aoun’s hand as though he is a supreme judicial authority to which any litigant can turn.


Officially Unveiling the Ruling Regime’s Tool for Universalizing Impunity


Mikati and Mawlawi’s letters show a determination to interpret Article 751 of the Code of Civil Procedure, which pertains to maljudging cases, in a manner that guarantees that the investigations into the banks are indefinitely suspended as soon as any one of them files such a case. Apparently, this article – which was previously used to freeze the port blast investigation for over a year – has become a political tool to obstruct the investigation in the banks’ cases and ultimately entrench a system of universal impunity. From this angle, the letters unveil the political system’s favorite weapon for completely incapacitating justice work. There is no better evidence than Mawlawi’s letter to suspend all warrants issued by Aoun in any case wherein a maljudging suit has been filed, which creates a precedent that could extend to all corruption cases and the port blast case. Judges should use their powers of legal interpretation, just as Bitar did on January 23, to disable this weapon now threatening the entire justice system and turning all Lebanese people into victims.


The Issue Is Injustice, Not Ghada Aoun


What we are witnessing today is identical to what occurred approximately one month ago in the port blast case and an indication of the ruling regime’s readiness to turn and pounce on any judge who dares cross any of its red lines. What happened to Bitar cannot be analyzed through factors specific to him, the case he was examining, or any action he took or did not take, and the same goes for what is now happening to Aoun. We are facing a total rejection by the ruling regime of any judicial effort to achieve a minimum level of accountability and justice. It is thereby totally abandoning judicial sovereignty and forcing victims to turn to other countries’ justice systems or international justice as a last resort for obtaining their rights.


Therefore, the coalition makes the following demands:


  1. We call upon democratic and social forces, especially lawyers and judges, to defend what remains of the justice system against this attack – which is a complement to the coup occurring in the port blast case – and to work to fortify judges conducting investigations, especially in extremely important social cases like those concerning the port blast and the 9 billion dollars smuggled abroad. We also call for the broadest possible social mobilization to initiate and support cases against Mikati and Mawlawi for their crimes of interfering in the judiciary and usurping judicial authority.


  1. We call on judges to exercise necessity-based legal interpretation to stop the abuse of trial procedure to achieve absurd results that torpedo judicial work in its entirety, along with the right to litigate and the principles of accountability, given the shutdown of the Full Bench of the Court of Cassation. We also confront the Beirut and Tripoli bar associations with their responsibility to ensure compliance with professional ethics and begin proceedings against the lawyers involved in abusively obstructing justice. The right of defense exists for defending suspects before the judiciary, not for completely subverting justice.


  1. We call on democratic MPs to mobilize en masse to enact a legislative amendment that deprives defendants of the ability to suspend investigations just by filing frivolous cases to stay the judge’s hand.

This statement was originally published in Arabic on 22 January  2023 

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