At approximately 11:00 am on Thursday, 17 September 2015, Al Mezan Center for Human Rights launched a workshop entitled “Mechanisms to Unite Palestinian Judiciary”, held at the Lantern restaurant in Gaza city. Approximately 60 legal experts, journalists, and politicians attended the workshop. The workshop is part of an effort by Al Mezan and Palestinian civil society to end the split in the judicial system and the Palestinian internal schism in general. The workshop is funded by the Heinrich Boll Foundation.
Lawyer Alaa Skafi opened the workshop by thanking the participants. He then talked about Al Mezan’s efforts to pave the road for uniting the Palestinian judiciary as a basic pillar to ensure the rule of law and the respect of human rights. Mr. Skafi asserted that the Palestinian basic law and the law of the Judicial Authority are the main tools through which independence of judiciary and unity are realized, and should be pursued without delay.. He pointed towards the aim of the workshop being to outline appropriate steps to achieve this goal.
Legal consultant, Diaa Al Din Al Madhoun, the chief judge of the Appeals Court in Gaza, thanked Al Mezan for organizing such workshops. He then presented statistics on the annual recorded lawsuits in Gaza, which are increasing. He asserted as well that the number of current judges is not enough compared to the size of Gaza’s population. He talked about the acute financial crisis in the judiciary and the imposition of stamp tax fees to provide operational expenses. The Palestinian Bar Association has protested the fees as violating the law; however, the High Judicial Council continues to collect them. Al Madhoun emphasized the importance of exerting pressure on the decision makers to work towards uniting the judiciary to be independent, uncorrupted, and away from any pressure or political interests. He expressed the willingness of the High Judicial Council in Gaza to meet the High Judicial Council in the West Bank to pave the road towards uniting the judiciary.
Mrs. Mervat Al Nahhal, Al Mezan’s senior lawyer, asserted that judiciary is a basic pillar in the legitimacy principle in general and a guarantee for the rule of law. Mrs. Al Nahhal noted that the split began to expand under the two separate judicial systems, with dual civil and Islamic Sharia’a laws. She emphasized the importance of relying on the Palestinian basic laws and the laws of the Judicial Authority as reference to establish mechanisms for uniting the judiciary.
Mr. Ziyad Al Najjar, secretary of the Palestinian Bar Association, talked about the illegitimacy of imposing new fees by the High Judicial Council in the Gaza Strip. He said that the high records of lawsuits in the courts are not an indicator of the judiciary’s efficiency. There are other indicators, such as the rate of satisfaction of the judiciary and the implementation of the rulings. Mr. Al Najjar expressed the willingness of the Palestinian Bar Association to intervene to help mend the political and judicial splits.
Dr. Tareq Al Deirawi, the former director of the Legislative Council, posed several questions on the current situation that serves to widen the divisions. He raised his doubts about the possibility of addressing the judiciary crisis amidst a legislative split. He talked about the laws issued by the Legislative Council in Gaza that directly harm the legislative system and the executive orders issued by the Palestinian presidency. He said that the only solution to unite the judiciary is to have a comprehensive national reconciliation based on neutralizing the judiciary.
At the end of the workshop, Alaa Skafi thanked the speakers for their valuable contributions in making the workshop a success. Participants introduced many questions and came up with the following recommendations: