BEIRUT: Lebanon’s courthouses are paralysed after the country’s judges’ strike entered its fifth month.
This prolonged inactivity has had a severe impact on the daily lives of Lebanese people, with hundreds of pending files and detainees awaiting prosecution.
More than 450 of the 560 judges in Lebanon have stopped working, with the rest continuing in military courts or for humanitarian reasons.
The strike centers around demands for salary revisions after the collapse of the Lebanese pound, as well as improvements in working conditions.
In addition to the collapse of the pound, political interference has caused significant displeasure among many in the judiciary, contributing to the desire to strike.
“People are greatly affected,” said Imad Al-Masri, a lawyer specializing in criminal proceedings. “As lawyers, we must defend people’s interests, along with our personal interests, as we are on the verge of bankruptcy and our salary is zero.”
He stated that lawyers in Lebanon are unable file complaints to release detainees, noting that preventive detention is limited to two months.
“There are humanitarian cases where people have to be released. Some (of those who) were arrested due to misdemeanors … can be released in days at the stroke of a pen. However, they have been held for months in inappropriate conditions and no one is taking action.”
Al-Masri added: “Had it not been for the security agencies that are taking action in prosecuting criminals, we would be governed by the law of the jungle.”
Another lawyer, who did not reveal his name, said: “Court hearings in a criminal court (are taking place) without a representative of the Public Prosecution office. This court is considered illegal.
“Some judges suddenly choose not to suspend their activity and decide to open files that are classified as having political coverage, such as in the bribery file of the directory of road traffic.”
The lawyer added that he tried to file an urgent complaint last week before the Cassation Public Prosecution about an attempt to kill one of his clients. However, the complaint was rejected, and when he added that the suspect might kill his client, the prosecution responded that their hands were tied.
The judges’ strike has led many citizens to lose trust in the judiciary, with some taking matters into their own hands.
A security source noted that cases of fraud and physical abuse had increased in the last months, and that offenders are no longer afraid since courthouses are not taking any action. Stories of public prosecutors not receiving people’s complaints or legal proceedings, and police stations not receiving directives to arrest suspects, meanwhile, are common.
Judges who have suspended their activities have been receiving $1,500 for three months, in addition to their salary, while continuing their strike.
However, this is covered by the Support Fund for Judges, a judicial source told Arab News, as a temporary aid while demands for a salary review continue.
The Lebanese Judges Association declared last month that “responsibility, anger and blame should be directed at the political authorities.
“The case of judges suspending their work was not given any importance, thus leaving the people and judges to suffer humiliation, as if justice is not, and never was a priority,” said the association.
Arab News learnt that the Lebanese central bank, the Banque du Liban, had agreed to give judges their salary at the rate of 8,000 Lebanese pounds to the US dollar, subject to the approval of caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
At current rates, though, judges’ monthly salaries are worth between 1.6 million pounds ($40) and 8.2 million dependent on rank and experience.
These salaries ranged between $400 and $5,000 per month before the collapse of the pound.
The increase of the public sector’s wages within the 2022 budget, meanwhile, did not include judges.
A judicial source told Arab News: “There is no electricity, no paper and no pens (at the courts). We sometimes use both sides of a sheet of paper and a phone’s flashlight to search files due to the diesel shortage and the generators’ intermittent power.
“Consequently, there is neither heating, nor cooling or maintenance, and garbage is piling up in some justice palaces.
“There are attempts to interfere politically in judicial files. How can one work in such conditions, in addition to the extremely low salaries?”