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In Distressing Precedent Revealing Extent of Executive Authority’s Power Over the Judiciary: Judges and Lawyers Denied Access to Courts Complex in Al-Bireh

Ref: 88/2020

Date: 07 September 2020

Time: 20:00 GMT

 

The Palestinian Police set up barriers around the courts complex in al-Bireh city and denied judges and lawyers’ access to the complex to attend Supreme Court sessions regarding the secondment of judges who demanded the dissolution of the Transitional Council and the independence of the judiciary.

 

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) condemns in the strongest terms the police’s intervention denying judges and lawyers, both in their professional titles and as ordinary citizens, access to the courts complex. PCHR affirms that the incident is a blatant violation of the independence of the judiciary, which contravenes Article 98 of the 2003 Palestinian Basic Law (PBL), and a violation of Article (105) which stipulates that “Court hearings shall be public.”

 

According to PCHR’s follow-up, at approximately 10:00, on 07 September 2020, several judges, who were put on secondment, went to attend the Supreme Court sessions on their appeal on their secondment decision at the Courts Complex in al-Bireh city, northern Ramallah. The judges were accompanied by their appointed attorneys, representatives of human rights organizations, journalists and media. Upon their arrival near the Courts Complex, they were met with Palestinian security officers closing the surroundings with barriers and denying their access to the courts. The Palestinian security officers told them that they had security instructions to deny their access. When the judges asked the officers if they have an official court decision to do so, an officer replied that he did not know and that he only received instructions. Meanwhile, the Court issued a statement denying that it prevented judges and lawyers from entering its courtroom.

 

PCHR stresses that the principle of  publicity of court hearings is a constitutional principle. Consequently, the public in general has the right to attend trial sessions, and a fortiori it is the right of all parties and beneficiaries involved in the case; thus, one cannot think of a reason for denying judges and lawyers from attending the hearings.

 

In any case, only a judicial decision can deny attendance to court sessions, which has not happened as the Court’s press release affirmed that it did not deny the judges’ access, which is a clear violation of Article 105, mentioned above, “Court hearings shall be public, unless a court decides to make them in camera due to considerations related to public order or public morals. In all cases, the sentence shall be pronounced in a public hearing.”

 

PCHR considers that the denial of access for judges and lawyers to the courtroom targets their persons and titles, which is rejected in form and in substance, as it tarnishes and undermines the solemnity and status of the judiciary that are indispensable for the fulfillment of its role.

 

The interference of the executive authority in judicial affairs is a flagrant violation of Article (98) of the 2003 Palestinian Basic Law, which stipulates:

 

“Judges shall be independent and shall not be subject to any authority other than the authority of the law while exercising their duties.  No other authority may interfere in the judiciary or in judicial affairs.”

 

PCHR considers that preventing judges and lawyers from entering the courtroom is a targeting of their characters persons and, which is unacceptable  in form and context for it represents a full waste of the judicial system’s prestige and status, which are indispensable for its role.

 

The executive authority’s interference in the judicial authority’s work is a flagrant violation of Article (98) of the Basic Law:

“Judges shall be independent and shall not be subject to any authority other than the authority of the law while exercising their duties.  No other authority may interfere in the judiciary or in judicial affairs.”

 

PCHR emphasizes that the police’s main task is to implement the law and implement judicial orders; therefore, setting up actual barriers to prevent judges and lawyers from entering the court without an order from the Court itself is an abuse of power and a violation of the law. The situation was worsened as the policy not only prevented the judges and their lawyers from access the courtroom, but also prevented everyone else from entering the entire courts complex, even lawyers who have other cases.

 

PCHR stresses the seriousness of this precedent which undermines the judiciary’s independence, wastes justice and the right to litigate; and highlights that this incident is part of a series of incidents that began years ago in order to completely undermine the independence of the judiciary and ensure full control of the executive authority over it. PCHR and human rights organizations also warned of the  consequences of this ongoing policy on several occasions. The last of which was a position paper that was issued by 7 human rights organizations, in which they warned of the seriousness of the executive authority’s interference in the judiciary’s work and demanded the executive power to stop its infringement on the Judicial Authority Law and judges’ independence.1

 

It should be noted that in addition to the division that the Judicial Authority suffers since 2007, PCHR documented, in previous years, s a number of serious abuses against the Judiciary, perhaps the most prominent of which was overthrowing of the Chief Justice Chancellor Sami Sarsour in 2016, as it was revealed that the Honorable Sarsour signed his own resignation at the time of his appointment in order to control him. Additionally, the dissolution of the High Judicial Council (HJC) in 2019, and formation of a Transitional High Judicial Council under the pretext of reforming the judiciary, which was opposed by the Judges’ Club and civil society at the time. In addition, there are dozens of cases where the executive authority disrupted he implementation of judicial rulings without legal basis.

 

PCHR also calls upon the executive authority to immediately stop its arbitrary practices against the judiciary and judges and to stop its continued attempts to control the Judicial Authority, whose independence is a prerequisite for stability and prosperity in any state.

 

PCHR also calls on the Attorney General to open an investigation into this incident and publish the results and take all necessary legal and administrative measures against offenders.

 

Finally, PCHR warns that the continued encroachment over the judicial authority will have serious consequences that will affect all aspects of life, especially the already deteriorating civil peace and the economic situation.