The lack of quorum prevented the 10-member plenary assembly of the Court of Cassation from meeting, causing more than two months of paralysis. The assembly has finally had its 10 members appointed, which will allow it to resume its activities and examine the lawsuits filed before it, in particular in the case of the Beirut port explosion.
On Monday, the Higher Judicial Council appointed six chamber presidents of the Court of Cassation. These were added to the four others already present (Souheir Harakeh, Afif Hakim, Jamal Hajjar, Jamale Khouri), who have not been able to hold a meeting since January, following the retirement of one of their colleagues, Roukoz Rizk, which caused the loss of the required quorum of five for the assembly's meeting.
Five other members of the assembly had retired before him, but were not replaced until Monday, due to a political tug-of-war and President Michel Aoun having blocked a judicial reshuffle since March 2020.
The partial appointments announced late Monday evening came after yet another lengthy meeting of the Higher Judicial Council, in which differences over who should be appointed to the posts prevailed.
These appointments require the signatures of the justice and finance ministers, the prime minister and the president of the republic. The council's members had repeatedly tried to complete the formation of the assembly, but the steps had ended in failure, especially because of the veto opposed by some of them, including Court of Cassation Public Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat, on the appointment of Randa Kfoury.
This judge, as well as another judge, Jeannette Hanna, were respectively the acting presidents of the fifth and sixth chambers of the Court of Cassation. Judge Hanna had overruled on Oct. 11 a lawsuit lodged by Amal Movement MPs and former ministers Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter, who sought to depose Bitar after he charged them in the port case.
A judicial source told L'Orient-Le Jour that Hanna's exclusion from the appointments is due to a dispute she has with Justice Minister Henri Khoury.
This allegation was formally denied by Khoury, who claimed not to have been in contact with her for years.
For her part, Judge Kfoury approved on Nov. 25 a legal request for legitimate suspicions lodged by the Beirut Bar Association to remove Ghassan Khoury, the acting public prosecutor at the Court of Cassation, who had replaced Oueidat in the Beirut port explosion case. Khoury had recused himself due to his family relationship with Zeaiter.
By virtue of yesterday's appointments, the council propelled six judges to the assembly by appointing them presidents of chambers of the Court of Cassation.
Saniya Nasr, president of a chamber of the Mount Lebanon Court of Appeal, has been appointed president of the fifth chamber, thus replacing Judge Hanna.
The Bekaa Court of Appeal prosecutor Mounif Barakat is now president of the sixth chamber of the Court of Cassation, replacing Judge Kfoury.
The first president of the Beirut Court of Appeal, Habib Rizkallah, now chairs the 10th chamber, while Majed Mzayhem, president of a chamber of the South Lebanon Court of Appeal, is appointed president of the eighth chamber.
Finally, Ayman Oueidat, president of the Beirut Court of Appeal, now heads the second chamber, replacing Roula Masri, interim president, who will retire on April 24, and who had overruled a recusal request filed by Khalil and Zeaiter against Naji Eid in February .
For his part, Judge Eid had ruled against a lawsuit to remove Bitar, but he was not excluded from the new appointments. Eid is currently in charge of ruling a lawsuit to dismiss Tarek Bitar, but cannot decide on the matter because of a lawsuit brought against the state by Khalil and Zeaiter alleging “serious faults” by the judge.
The new appointments will immediately result in the plenary assembly resuming its activities. This body should soon decide on a complaint brought forward on Dec. 3 by the former Minister of Public Works Youssef Fenianos against the state alleging “serious faults” by Bitar, who had issued an arrest warrant in absentia against Fenianos. It will also rule on a similar lawsuit brought in February by Khalil and Zeaiter against Judge Eid, who is tasked with examining their recusal lawsuits against Bitar.
It did not take more than 24 hours after the appointments for the attempts to dismiss Bitar to resume. Mohammad Maoula, the employee in charge of controlling the vessels' access to the docks at the port and who is detained in the port blast case, lodged a lawsuit for legitimate suspicion against Bitar before the sixth chamber of the Court of Cassation. The dismissal of Judge Kfoury, who is known for his legal rigor and for refusing to comply with political interference, could increase his chances of winning.
After these appointments, the presidents of the chambers of the Court of Cassation will also be able to elect their representative to the Higher Judicial Council, while the cabinet may appoint another member to this judicial body.
There are currently eight members of the 10 member council: Court of Cassation first president Souheil Abboud, Court of Cassation Public Prosecutor Ghassan Oueidat, Judicial Inspection Authority head Judge Barkan Saad, in addition to Afif Hakim, Habib Mezher, Dany Chebli, Mireille Haddad and Elias Richa.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour.