Monday, March 2, 2009

Egyptian Lawyers continue protest, Parliament expected pass contentious draft law

Daily News Egypt
Yasmine Saleh

First Published: March 1, 2009

CAIRO: Lawyers vowed to continue their sit-in inside the Lawyers’ Syndicate throughout this week in protest at a new draft law that would increase lawsuit fees 10-fold.

The Legislative Committee of the People’s Assembly (PA) had already approved the draft law. It’s now pending the approval of the members of parliament.

Mohamed Khalil Kwaitah, MP affiliated with the National Democratic Party (NDP), told Daily News Egypt that “the PA will not be conducting any discussions or changes to this law.”

In a statement, Lawyers Against Increasing Lawsuits’ Fees, the movement spearheading the protests, said it wants article 9 of the current law to stay in its original form, leaving lawsuits’ fees unchanged.

Lawyers vowed to continue protesting and threatened to go on hunger strike if their demands weren’t met.

Under the current law, article 9, a plaintiff who asks for financial compensation would pay a token fee that never exceeds LE 100. With the amendments, the amount of money a plantiff would pay in advance in such cases would increase.

“For example, when a plaintiff was asking for LE 100,000 as financial compensation, he used to pay around LE 43 as court fees as well as LE 27.50 as fees for the Judges Social Fund Project; LE 70.50 in total,” the lawyers’ movement explained in its statement.

“But now, the newly introduced 0.5 percent increase, means that the plaintiff would pay the LE 500 as token fees along with LE 250 for the Judges Social Fund Project; a total of LE 750,” the statement continued.

Fathi Ragab, deputy chairman of the Shoura Council, previously told Daily News Egypt in a previous interview that Article 23 waives the fees from those who cannot afford them, provided the court verifies their financial inability.

Based on the new law, fees will range from LE 10–50, an increase from the old law’s LE 1–5. The old law was issued in 1944 and had not undergone any amendments since.

In protests at the Lawyers’ Syndicate last week, independent lawyers mocked PA speaker Fathi Sorour, Mamdouh Marei, minister of justice, and Ahmed Ezz, chairman of the National Democratic Party’s logistics committee and head of the PA’s planning and budget committee, which resulted in clashes with NDP-affiliated lawyers.

Lawyers placed banners reading “public Enemies” above puppets representing Sorour, Marie and Ezz.

Last week, lawyers nationwide suspended their criminal court cases in protest at the newly approved law and held protests in front of the Cabinet building where they chanted slogans against it as well as Marei and Ezz.

Hamdy Khalifa, chairman of the Lawyers’ Syndicate, sent a letter to Sorour and Amal Othman, chairperson of the PA’s legislation committee, addressing the problem, he told the press.

“The right to file a lawsuit should not be subject to any regulations or legislation that may prevent citizens from resorting to the legal system,” the letter read.

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