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Article on judicial powers sparks controversy in Tunisia's Constitutional Assembly

February 4, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Tunisia’s National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) was scheduled on Monday to complete the vote on the new chapter of the Constitution related to judicial powers, but heated discussion took place that ended the first session without an agreement on one of the articles.

Two of the articles, one regarding the independence of the judicial system and the other public prosecutors, were swiftly passed. However, an article addressing the mechanisms for choosing judges has been disputed.

Proposed modifications to the article were repeatedly rejected and the session was put off until Tuesday morning. NCA members are then expected to propose further modifications.

Judges in the country had launched an industrial strike last week over the disputed article, which is described by many observers as “controversial”. The judges are calling for the article to guarantee the independence of judicial authority from the executive branch.

Al-Bawsala, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Carter Centre have all urged NCA members to strengthen guarantees for judicial independence.

The group of four NGOs said: “The judiciary under former President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali was subservient to the executive branch and lacked independence. It is essential that Tunisia’s new constitution fully guarantees the independence of the judiciary and the impartiality of justice.”

Earlier on Monday, the NCA approved another chapter that deals with the responsibilities, formation and work of the executive branch of government and the president of the state. Two of the articles in this chapter have also not been approved yet because of deep political disputes.

The NCA has approved 100 chapters out of 150 over ten days. It was initially scheduled for all the chapters to be approved by Tuesday, 14 January, which coincides with the third anniversary of the revolution. But the disputes over certain articles are delaying the process.

After the chapter on the judiciary system, the NCA will turn to chapters on human rights, fighting corruption, regional councils and other issues also expected to raise similar controversy.

When the whole Constitution is finally approved, it will need to be ratified by a two thirds majority of NCA members, or be subject to a referendum.

After the new Constitution becomes law, Tunisia will have passed the transitional stage successfully. The government, which is supposed to be formed before the end of this month, will then start preparing for parliamentary and presidential elections before the end of this year.