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Justice

A top judicial body has been gutted amid a political tug-of-war

The Higher Judicial Council, which administers Lebanon’s court system, can no longer convene, after members whose terms have expired have not been replaced

A top judicial body has been gutted amid a political tug-of-war

Higher Judicial Council head Souheil Abboud. (Credit: Marc Fayad)

As the Lebanese state disintegrates, judicial institutions have not been spared. The Higher Judicial Council, a main pillar of the judicial system, can no longer convene as the term of office of seven of its 10 members expired on Friday. The new Higher Judicial Council’s formation is a difficult task, reflecting a tug-of-war among political forces.

While caretaker Justice Minister Marie-Claude Najm has submitted a proposal to fill the vacant seats, it has been contested, and she was accused of nominating four judges who align with the Aounist camp. The draft decree for appointing the judges, which Najm submitted to caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab on Monday, has yet to be signed, after which it will be submitted to President Michel Aoun.

One of the reasons behind this delay is that the caretaker government does not have the prerogative to decide on the nominations, limited in its work to routine business and affairs, a source from Diab’s office said.

Diab sought clarifications on whether it is legal for the Higher Judicial Council to lack members, even though a quorum of six out of the 10 members would be obtained, if the draft decree for the nominations is signed, the source said.

Should the judges nominated by Najm be appointed, only eight seats in the Higher Judicial Council would be filled. These include its three permanent members — Higher Judicial Council head Souheil Abboud, Court of Cassation Public Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat and Judicial Inspection Authority head Judge Barkan Saad — as well as a judge who was elected 10 days ago by the presidents and associate judges of the Court of Cassation.

However, the final two judges cannot be appointed, due to a stalemate that has been ongoing since March 2020, after Aoun refused to sign a decision by the Higher Judicial Council to reshuffle the judiciary.

Ostensibly, political motives are leading to this stalemate, which is stopping the appointment of presidents of the chambers of the Court of Cassation, from whom the members of the Higher Judicial Council should be selected.

Resentment

The names suggested in Najm’s draft include the head of the North Lebanon Appeals Court, Samer Younes; the head of the Justice Ministry’s legislation and consultations department, Joelle Fawaz; the president of the Beirut Court of First Instance, Dania Dahdah; and the head of the Beirut Appeals Court, Rola al-Husseini.

The proposal sparked media backlash and drew the ire of judicial circles.

Najm had proposed Younes twice to lead the investigation into the Aug. 4 blast at the Beirut port; however, this was turned down by the Higher Judicial Council.

Fawaz is married to a close associate of the Aounist camp, Judge Henri Khoury, who served as president of the State Shura Council. In fact, Free Patriotic Movement leader and former Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil had suggested Khoury to fill the justice minister post in the next government.

Dahdah, a close associate of the Aounist camp, enjoys outstanding relations with the Higher Judicial Council’s president as well.

As for Husseini, who is Shiite, media outlets reported that she was nominated without the consent of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, which reportedly annoyed him.

Magistrates told L’Orient-Le Jour that the nominees were chosen mostly for being close to the Aounist camp rather than based on objective criteria.

“We are not denying that the judges chosen by [Najm] are competent, but why did she not select other magistrates who are equally skilled, who are not strong sympathizers with a particular camp and have seniority?” a magistrate said.

Speaking with L’Orient-Le Jour, Najm underscored that she made her list independently, without prior consultation with any of the various political forces.

Commenting on the matter, a high-ranking judge said Najm should have consulted with Diab and Aoun before making her nominations.

“The decree for appointing [judges] is part of the executive power’s job,” he said. “It would have been better if [Najm] had selected the names after having consulted with [Diab] and [Aoun].”

He criticized Najm for being inclined to media exposure, claiming she resorts to the media “in an attempt to recover wasted credibility.”


This article was originally published in French. Translation by Joelle El Khoury.


As the Lebanese state disintegrates, judicial institutions have not been spared. The Higher Judicial Council, a main pillar of the judicial system, can no longer convene as the term of office of seven of its 10 members expired on Friday. The new Higher Judicial Council’s formation is a difficult task, reflecting a tug-of-war among political forces.While caretaker Justice Minister Marie-Claude...