Lebanon: Fifty Organizations Bond to Fight for an Independent Judiciary

Hala Nasreddine
Lebanese Journalist
Published on 15.02.2021
Reading time: 6 minutes

Where is the truth? What are the results of the investigation? Why is the judiciary not making any statements? These are but a few of the many painful questions asked by the families of the victims of the Beirut Port explosion. More than six months have passed, and not one official has been held accountable for the biggest crime in Lebanon’s history.

“We will not stop until justice is served,” is one of the slogans raised by those seeking the truth. The government had promised to solve the crime within five days. Meanwhile, more than six months have passed, and years and decades more may pass, without results.

This is due Lebanon’s weak judiciary, its inability to override immunities, and a long list of political-sectarian red lines, which have always prevented perpetrators from being punished.

The basic requirement for achieving justice remains: judiciary independence. Those two words summarize the debate following every assassination or corruption case in Lebanon, so much so that the Lebanese have started to see it as a platonic demand only applicable in the utopian world Plato put forward in his book The Republic.

On the one hand, the Lebanese demand judiciary independence as it is the core of justice and no fair, democratic nation can exist without it.

On the other hand, “judiciary independence,” or a presumed lack thereof, has become the main argument for the ruling elite to suspend the most essential judges. Many of the parties calling for it are in fact the parties that have stripped the judiciary of its authority.

Over the years, many attempts have been made to establish judicial independence. They only intensified following the 2019 October Revolution and the massacre on August 4, 2020.

The latest attempt is the Coalition for an Independent Lebanese Judiciary (CILJ), which was announced by The Legal Agenda in February 2021 under the leadership of its founder and executive director, lawyer Nizar Saghieh, with the participation of more than 50 groups, political parties and human rights organizations. 

The CILJ submitted a draft proposal for a law on the independence of the judiciary. The Legal Agenda has always fought for this goal by “supporting the reformist trends within the judiciary, most prominently, those aiming to form professional democratic judicial groups, in a manner that leads to the development of solidarity among judges, and strengthens their guarantees against any interference, exclusivity or sectarianism,” according to an article written by Saghieh in 2015.

The judiciary did not even pass judgment on Lebanon’s Civil War criminals who killed some 150,000 people, left some 300,000 others wounded, while some 17,000 people went missing. All was “forgiven and forgotten,” as a result of the 1991 General Amnesty Law.


Many challenges and obstacles stand in the way of achieving judicial independence. The Independence and Impartiality of the Judiciary in Lebanon study, prepared by lawyers Carlos Youssef Daoud and Maya Wahib Mansour and published by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Network in February 2010, describes how politics interferes in Lebanon’s judiciary.

“The appointment of half of the Constitutional Council by the Chamber of Deputies and of the other half by the government allows these two powers to select judges that are close to them,” it states. “As a result, members of the Constitutional Council are politically influenced and its independence and impartiality are thus compromised.” 

Another issue is that judicial positions are distributed on a sectarian basis. So, the President of the Court of Cassation (CC), who is also the President of the High Judicial Council (HJC), is always a Maronite Christian, while the Public Prosecutor at the CC, who is also Vice-President of the HJC, is always a Sunni Muslim.

The presidents of the courts of appeals and public prosecutors are distributed proportionally among the various sects. Consequently, politicians seek to appoint people close to them. 

As for the HJC, only two of its ten members are elected. According to the 1989 Taif Agreement and the 2001 Judicial Judiciary Law, “a number” of judges should be elected by the HJC. However, as the number never specified, it was exploited by the political parties to limit it to just two.

Other challenges include judicial corruption, such as accepting bribes, in addition to “incompetence and sometimes lack of integrity”, according to the former President of the Beirut Bar Association, George Joreige, in an interview with The Legal Agenda in 2015.

According to a 2008 judicial independence study by the Parliamentary Human Rights Committee, another problem is the absence of guarantees for judges regarding “interventions by the executive authority, especially in formations and transfers, and thus in the promotions.” They also suffer from a lack of immunity. In addition, there is the judicial bottleneck resulting from the accumulation of files, slow trials and complicated procedures.

Coalition for an Independent Lebanese Judiciary

The CILJ was established after several major events that shocked the country off late, varying the August 4 explosion to the assassination of Lokman Slim, and the forced disappearance of protesters in Tripoli to the obstruction of any attempt to expose the country’s corrupt elite through lifting the banking secrecy law Saghieh described this as “the cemetery in which a huge number of corruption files is lost.”

Therefore, the coalition aims to use pressure to build up a real public opinion demanding transparency and independence of the judiciary.

Saghieh on February 12 read the CILJ’s founding statement called An Independent Judiciary for Lebanon, which focuses on three main goals.

1. The independence of the judiciary and consequently its liberation from the domination of the ruling authority is a prerequisite for building a just and effective democratic state, holding the perpetrators accountable and setting red lines in the face of any ruler, stressing the importance of the ability of judicial institutions to protect citizens’ lives, rights and freedoms ‘without the favor of anyone.’

2. The independence of the judiciary is not a slogan and it is not a given that is achieved by simply declaring it. Rather, it is an achievement that is built by willpower, and rooted by surrounding it with adequate, realistic and legal guarantees.

3. Finalizing the final version of the draft law on the independence of the administrative judiciary.

“The proposal we are adopting today aims at liberating and restoring the administrative judiciary, which consists of the courts responsible of settling disputes between individuals, on the one hand, and the state, municipalities and public institutions on the other,” said Saghieh.

He emphasized that independence of the judiciary is a national goal that allows for the restructuring of power, establishing a true democratic system, and holding rulers accountable far removed from any legal immunity.

Despite officially announcing the coalition and its members, the door remains open to new members.

A Legal Duty 

The international treaties ratified by Lebanon, most notably the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, as well the Lebanese Constitution call for the independence of the judiciary and the importance of a fair trial.

The Coalition hopes that the draft law will soon find its way to parliament, and that it will be approved and ratified without “distortions” and exceptions, without ending up in the parliament’s deep drawers, as so many draft reform laws prior to that. 

At the moment, judicial independence remains a distant dream, yet a dream that deserves the unity of the Lebanese people in order to achieve it and see justice is served.  

At the moment, judicial independence remains a distant dream, yet a dream that deserves the unity of the Lebanese people in order to achieve it and see justice is served.  

As Benjamin Franklin, one of the most important founders of the United States of America, once said, “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.”

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Hala Nasreddine
Lebanese Journalist
Published on 15.02.2021
Reading time: 6 minutes

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