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PA President Mahmoud Abbas attends the Arab Leagues foreign ministers meeting to discuss unannounced U.S. blueprint for Israeli-Palestinian peace, in Cairo, Egypt, April 21, 2019..(Photo by: MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY/REUTERS)
Abbas in bid to reform 'inefficient' judiciary
Abbas took the decision because of the failure of the High Judicial Council to halt the deterioration of the judiciary.
Facing increased criticism over the poor performance of the Palestinian judiciary, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday dissolved the West Bank-based High Judicial Council (HJC).

Abbas’s move came in light of the steady decline of public confidence in the performance of the Palestinian judiciary, the PA’s official news agency Wafa said.

Abbas took the decision because of the failure of the HJC to halt the deterioration of the judiciary, the agency added.

Established in 2002, the High Judicial Council oversees the affairs of judges on matters related to judicial inspection, grievances, appealing decisions, disciplinary inquiry of judges and administrative duties. The council members consist of the chief of the Supreme Court and his deputy, the attorney-general, the head of Courts of Appeal, the deputy minister of justice and representatives of the judges of the Supreme Court.

The HJC’s mission includes enhancing the independence of judges and ensuring their transparency and efficiency, as well as improving court performance and facilitating case proceedings.

In addition to dissolving the council, Abbas also decided to reduce the retirement age of judges to 60 years and to appoint a transitional High Judicial Council for one year.

The seven-member transitional council will be headed by Issa Abu Sharar, former president of the Supreme Court, who was sworn in by Abbas on Thursday.

The official website of the High Judicial Council states that the Palestinian judiciary is “facing many challenges, which affect negatively the mechanism of judicial work as well as the spirit of its staff.”

External challenges, it says, include Israeli security measures such as “closure of Palestinian areas and checkpoints and disrespectful treatment for judges at checkpoints, which restrict their capabilities to work efficiently, and short Palestinian jurisdiction over [the Israeli-controlled West Bank] Area C.”

The internal challenges facing the Palestinian judiciary include “inadequate infrastructure and lack of logistic support related to providing computers and legal software for judges, inability to attract new judges because of low salaries, inability to improve practical abilities for judges, inability to appoint judges’ assistants, inability to improve forensic medicine and criminal research and inability for police to execute their real duties.”

Last year, 15 out of the 27 Palestinian Supreme Court judges submitted collective resignations in protest against proposed legal amendments deemed to be undermining the independence of the judiciary.

Announcing the resignations, the Palestinian Judges Association warned of “attempts to impose hegemony on the judiciary,” after a special committee set up by the PA leadership proposed the formation of an “evaluation committee” for judges from outside the judiciary.”

The group said that the move was a “blatant violation of the basic constitutional principles and international standards of judicial independence.” The group also warned the executive branch against using the committee’s proposal as “a Trojan horse to demolish and erode the judicial body.”

According to the group, it has documented a series of assaults on judges and representatives of the judiciary in the West Bank by unknown assailants and members of the PA security forces.

In one case, PA security officers in Hebron beat Judge Nabil Natsheh during a dispute over a car accident.

In another incident, also in Hebron, police officers assaulted prosecutor Samir Banat.

Recently, two unknown assailants shot and wounded Judge Muntaser Rawajbeh near his home in Nablus, drawing strong condemnation from the Palestinian Judges Association.
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