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Egypt: Council of Ministers Approves New Amendment to Code of Criminal Procedure

(Feb. 25, 2015) On February 18, 2015, the Council of Ministers of Egypt approved a draft law issued by the country’s President to amend articles 277 and 289 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. The newly amended articles are on the authority of the court to hear or exclude witnesses’ testimony during hearings. (Ahmed al Aqeb, Council of Ministers Approves Draft Amendments to the Code of Criminal Procedure, AL-WADI, (Feb. 18, 2015) (in Arabic).) For the first time in the history of Egypt’s law of criminal procedure, under the new amendments, the court would be granted the authority to disregard the testimony of any witnesses in a trial at the judge’s discretion. After receiving the approval of the Council of Ministers, the law was referred back to the Presidency to be signed and published in the Official Gazette. (Id.)

The new amendments have generated a lot of debate among legal scholars. Scholars endorsing the amendments claim that the proposed legislation would play a key role in saving adjudication time, enhancing the principle of prompt justice without sacrificing the rights of the disputing parties. (Id.)

Legal scholars who oppose the amendments allege that the proposals are politically motivated and are designed to impede the rights of defendants implicated in trials of a political nature. Additionally, they argue that such amendments represent a form of selective justice because they would enable the court to evade its obligation to listen to the witnesses. (Ibrahim Hassan, The New Amendment Will Murder Justice in Egypt, AL YOUM 7 (Feb. 19, 2015) (in Arabic).) Opponents of the amendments also argue that the regime is trying to limit the authority of the Court of Cassation by obstructing appeals against defendants in political crimes. If the draft legislation becomes a law, they assert, the Court of Cassation would no longer have the authority to repeal the decisions of the criminal court based on the procedural fact that the lower court did not hear the testimony of defense witnesses. (Id.)