During Parliament’s General Assembly session on 21 February 2022, Caretaker Minister of Justice Henry Khoury announced that he and the Supreme Judicial Council wished to deliver comments on the judicial independence bill as amended by the Administration and Justice Committee. Hence, he was granted one month. The minister then commended the request for advice on the bill that his predecessor Marie-Claude Najm had sent, at the behest of the Independence of the Judiciary Coalition (IJC), to the European Commission for Democracy through Law (the “Venice Commission”). The Venice Commission issued its advisory opinion on 20 June 2022. It contained important recommendations to ensure judicial independence standards. Several months then passed without the minister of justice delivering his comments, though he stated several times in the media that they were nearly done. When Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri questioned him in the General Assembly session on 26 July 2022, he responded that he had not yet finished them.
The IJC has learned from a source in the General Directorate of the Council of Ministers that Khoury recently sent not his comments on the bill to Parliament, as he had promised, but a draft of a new bill to the aforementioned directorate. He prepared this draft himself behind closed doors and without any discussion with the social forces concerned, including the IJC and the Lebanese Judges Association. So far, nobody has been able to view it.
Hence, the IJC would like to deliver the following comments:
- The justice minister’s behavior constitutes a breach of the principle of cooperation among the authorities and the principles of institutional work. Besides the fact that he has far exceeded the timeframe set for him to send his comments to Parliament, he also chose to undermine three years of legislative efforts involving MPs, judges, and social forces and return judicial reform to square one, all via a personal decision without any participation. This conduct sends an extremely poor message to litigants and judges, who have been awaiting the completion of these efforts. Khoury’s conduct is even more reprehensible because, firstly, the Ministry of Justice under Najm already delivered detailed, article-by-article comments on the bill in July 2021. Secondly, Khoury’s powers as a caretaker minister allow him to comment on the bill but not to draft a bill that reshapes one of the three authorities and its relations with the two others. Thirdly, the obstruction of the bill is now blocking the operation of the Full Bench of the Court of Cassation and the judicial personal charts, along with the investigations and applications for release in the port blast case. It is also squandering the potential of approximately 100 judges who graduated from the Institute of Judicial Studies in recent years but have yet to be appointed to courts.
- We call on the Administration and Justice Committee to note the minister’s breach of institutional work principles and commence legislative work from the point where it stopped without further delay. It should re-adopt the bill after making corrections to it in a public session attended by stakeholders, particularly the IJC and the Lebanese Judges Association, to ensure that it conforms with judicial independence standards and the Venice Commission’s recommendations.
- We call on MPs, especially democratic ones, to call Minister Khoury to account for his conduct contrary to the minimum standard of institutional work, especially as it obstructs the passage of reforms that society today desperately needs.
- Finally, we charge all political forces participating in government with the responsibility of removing the obstacles to judicial reform and putting an end to all behaviors that undermine or impede it. As always, we will endeavor to shed light on any obstruction we discern from any of these forces.
This statement is an edited translation from Arabic.