Judicial Foundation and Legal Codification
The Egyptian system of law is based on a combination of Civil Law traditions and Islamic legal concepts. Islamic law is applicable primarily to Muslims in matters of family, personal status, and inheritance. Although non-Muslims are subject to Shari’a laws with respect to inheritance matters, they have been allowed to maintain separate legislation in all other matters. The chief legal codifications include the Civil Code contained in Law No. 131 of July 1948; the Code of Civil Procedure contained in Law No. 13 of 1968; the Commercial Code of 1983, revised by Law No. 30 of 1984; the Criminal Code contained in Law No. 58 of 1937, and reformed in 1950 and 1952; and the Code of Criminal Procedure of 1950, reformed in 1952 and amended by Law No. 107 of 1962.
Judicial Structure and Court System
The lowest level courts are the Summary Tribunals (Mahakim Guz’iya) and Summary Tribunals of First Instance (Mahakim Kulliya), both of which are subdivided into civil and criminal courts. The Summary Tribunals are empowered to settle minor offenses and misdemeanors, civil and commercial cases of lesser value, minor personal status matters, and labor issues. The Tribunals of First Instance sit in three-judge panels to hear appeals from the Summary Tribunals, and, in the first instance, civil and commercial cases exceeding 250 Egyptian Pounds (about $60) and all significant personal status matters.
Appeals from Tribunals of First Instance are heard by the High Courts of Appeal (Mahkama al-Isti’naf). Judges of the Summary Tribunals and Tribunals of First Instance must be at least 28 years old and hold membership in the Bar Association for at least seven years. Law professors and public prosecutors with at least seven years of experience are also eligible.
The seven High Courts of Appeal, located in Cairo, Alexandria, Tanta, Mansourah, Assiout, Bani-Souef, and Ismailia, sit in chambers of three judges. They are subdivided into civil and criminal courts. Members of the High Courts of Appeal are chosen from among three groups of jurors: presidents of the Tribunals who are at least 38 years old, university professors who have been teaching law for at least five years, and barristers who have been members of the Bar Association for at least 15 years and who have been given permission to plead before the Supreme Court for at least three years.
Judicial Authority and Appointment of Judges
Judges are appointed by governmental decree. An additional independent judicial organ, the Supreme Constitutional Court, is empowered by Articles 174 to 178 of the Constitution to determine matters of constitutionality. Established in 1969 in Cairo, the Court has exclusive jurisdiction over questions of constitutionality of laws, rules, and regulations. Decisions of the Supreme Constitutional Court are published in the official Gazette.
In March 2007, the Supreme Judicial Council in Egypt chose 31 women to be judges out of 124 female candidates who work for the administrative prosecution office and at the department of the state's legal cases. Thirty of the newly appointed judges took legal oath on April 10, 2007. One chosen female judge declined her new position. These women will be working at courts of first instance. In a previous incident, one female was able in 2003 to assume the position of a judge, but she did not hear any cases as she was appointed to the Supreme Constitutional Court. The new appointments angered Islamist activists and some male judges who expressed their objection on the pretext that Islam does not allow females to preside over judicial power. In contrast, human rights and women's organizations welcomed that move. The president of the Supreme Judicial Council said that Islamic law (Shari'a) as well as the Egyptian constitution and law do not forbid appointing women judges. He added that the move had been delayed because the Egyptian public opinion had not been ready to accept it.
At the apex of the judicial hierarchy is the Supreme Court, or Court of Cassation, which is composed of thirty justices, including the Chief Justice, and sits in panels of at least five justices. Located in Cairo, this body serves as the final court of appeals on errors of law originating in the lower courts. Its decisions are not legally binding, but are persuasive authority.
Justices of the Supreme Court are chosen from among the judges with at least two years of experience in the High Courts of Appeal, law professors with at least 20 years of legal experience, and barristers with at least 20 years of membership in the Bar Association and eight years of experience pleading before the Supreme Court.
The Council of State (Maglis id-Dowla) comprises an administrative court system with jurisdiction over cases involving the state. The Council derives its authority from Article 172 of the Constitution of 1971. A Supreme Judicial Council attends to all matters of appointment, promotion, and transfer of judges. Headed by the Chief Justice, it is composed of two additional justices of the Supreme Court, the President of the Court of Appeal and of the Tribunal of First Instance in Cairo, the Attorney General, and the Under-Secretary of State for Justice.
Judicial Education and Profession
Faculties of law include programs at Cairo University, Ain Shams University, Al-Ashar University, Mansoura University, Alexandria University, and the Egyptian Society of International Law. Lawyers in Egypt are organized in a single Egyptian Bar located in Cairo, which is headed by a president, elected for two-year terms, and board members, elected for four-year terms.