BEIRUT — Higher Judicial Council head Soheil Abboud on Monday announced he would not attend a council meeting scheduled for Tuesday, due to what he called "political interferences."
The HJC is scheduled to discuss on Tuesday the appointment of an alternate judge for the port blast investigation who would rule on "urgent matters." Current lead investigating judge Tarek Bitar is suspended from the case following a number of removal requests by officials who were summoned or prosecuted in his investigation.
The urgent matters to be dealt with by Bitar's substitute are believed to include the release requests of people detained in connection with the blast, which includes the former Customs Director Badri Daher. Both Daher and Justice Minister Henry Khoury are affiliated with the Free Patriotic Movement.
In a public statement, Abboud denounced "political interferences," notably Khoury's latest scheduling of a Higher Judicial Council session and its agenda, which many judges have reportedly perceived as a bypassing of the judges' authority by the justice minister.
Abboud stated that these interferences "contribute to damaging the trust in the judicial performance." He such interferences are "clearly reflected" amid the current process to appoint judges to the plenary assembly of the Court of Cassation — the competent authority to rule on the appeals against Bitar. The judges must be appointed in order for the plenary assembly to reach a quorum, which will allow it to convene. Six of the assembly’s 10 seats are empty following the retirement of several members.
The HJC has been trying to replace the retirees, but the draft appointments require the signature of caretaker Finance Minister Youssef Khalil, who is close to the Amal Movement.
Khalil argued in a draft decree in to appoint the new judges in April that Abboud should be one of the five Christian appointees, instead of having another Christian magistrate serve as head of the Court of Cassation plenary assembly, a position he currently holds.