By Heba Hesham
CAIRO: Major General Mamdouh Shahin, member of the ruling military council, described the parliament’s suggested amendments on the Military Trials Law as an “infringement of a judicial authority on the jurisdictions of another.”
The People’s Assembly discussed in its Tuesday’s session, attended by Shahin, a number of amendments on the military trials law with the aim of limiting its jurisdiction on civilians.
Lawmakers wanted to cancel Article 6 of the law that gives the president of the state the authority to refer civilians to military trials.
The draft law was initially approved by MPs last week. Freedom and Justice Party MP Sobhi Saleh presented on Tuesday a proposal of the amendments prepared by the People’s Assembly’s legislative committee.
“The philosophy of the law we are trying to pass is to stop referring civilians to military trials, refer those who are still being tried by military court to a civilian one, and give hope to those who were already convicted by allowing them to appeal the ruling,” he said.
Shahin, who was critical of what he described as insults to the armed forces, said that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was about to scrap this article post the Jan. 25 uprising, however it decided to wait until the election of the parliament to lean on its legal legitimacy for such amendments.
MP Mohamed Abu Hamed dismissed the statement, saying SCAF has ignored the legitimacy of the parliament by issuing laws days before its first meeting.
Although Shahin asserted that the cancelation of this article permanently eliminates the president’s authority to refer civilians to military trials, a number of lawmakers said it was not enough.
“If Article 48 wasn’t cancelled or restricted, it means that we changed nothing,” said MP Ahmed Saied of the Free Egyptians Party.
Article 48 allows the military judiciary to set its own jurisdiction. The article was used by SCAF since it took power in February 2011 to justify military tribunals. At least 12,000 civilians went through military trials this past year.
Several MPs wanted to amend the law in a way that would acquit those 12,000 or grant them retrials in civilian courts.
The legislative and constitutional affairs PA’s sub-committee suggested instead that the military court and prosecution refer the cases that they considered previously to the general prosecution.
It added that those who were convicted before a military court can file an appeal before the Supreme Military Court of Appeals within 60 days of passing the law.
Various MPs demanded that the law should allow those who were convicted by military trials to appeal the verdict before their natural judge.
Shahin, however, said that the military judiciary offers the same guarantees found in a civil court.
“The convicted can appeal before the Supreme Military Court of Appeals, which is equivalent to the Court of Cassation, to challenge the verdict. The appeal can be either accepted or the convicted might be granted a pardon,” he said. “However, it isn’t accepted that a final ruling issued by a military court would be appealed before a civil one.”
MP Saleh explained that considering general rules about judicial jurisdiction, an appeal should not be transmitted from one entity to the other except if said judicial entity saw that the appeal it is considering is not under its jurisdiction.
MP Wahid Abdel Maguid said that to solve this dilemma, the convicted can request a retrial that would be considered by military court. “Based on the new law the military court will have to transmit the file of the case to the court of cassation,” he said.
The SCAF general, however, refused this suggestion describing it as an attempt to go around the concept that no judicial entity is allowed to monitor another except the Supreme Constitutional Court.
MP Gamal Heshmat said, “There is no problem in making an exception for the exception of referring civilians to military trials that was practiced during the reign of the former regime.”
An estimate of 2,000 people were subjected to military trials during the three decade rule of ousted president Hosni Mubarak. The Muslim Brotherhood, whose political arm the FJP controls the majority at the parliament, was one of those affected by those trials which often targeted dissent. Its candidate for presidency, Khairat Al-Shater, could be disqualified from the race due to an earlier conviction at a military court.
According to Shahin, no civilian was tried before military court for political cases post Jan. 25, asserting that only thugs were convicted.
“Can people with machine guns and explosives be tried before civil courts?” he said.
The MPs agreed to refer the topic back to the legislative committee to go through the new amendments discussed in the session along with the possibility of canceling or restricting Article 48 and Article 8 of the military trials law.
According to MP Mamdouh Ismail, Article 8 gives immunity to retired army officers from facing investigation before the general prosecution.
PA also continued Tuesday to slam the government’s first annual report to parliament, which was presented by Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzoury on Feb. 26 saying it failed to present adequate solutions to the problems faced by Egyptians in their daily life.
Parliament decided earlier to devote five sessions to the subject, which many see as a step towards a no-confidence vote.
The FJP, the biggest parliamentary bloc, has repeatedly said it will push for a no-confidence vote to sack the military-appointed cabinet.
With resistance from the ruling military council and debate over the lack of legal provisions allowing parliament to take such a measure, it wasn’t clear if FJP which seemed to be backing off at one point, would be able to go through with its plans.