The G7 group of countries have denounced the decision by the Tunisian government under president Kais Saied to dissolve the Supreme Judicial Council (CSM), an independent constitutional body responsible for maintaining and advancing judicial independence in the country. The decision was announced by president Saied on Sunday. The G7 countries include some of the country’s most important international donors.
On Monday, Tunisian security forces prevented CSM employees from entering its headquarters with the building locked with chains. CSM has the important responsibilities of appointing judges, reviewing appointments and promotions, conducting disciplinary proceedings and holding judges accountable. It acts as a conduit body between the judiciary and other branches of government.
CSM has already rejected the government’s decision as illegal and unconstitutional. Several judges and other judicial bodies, as well as opposition political parties, denounced the move. CSM and other judicial organizations have announced that they will take appropriate actions to oppose the move, including the possibility of an open-ended general strike by judges across the country and holding of an extraordinary plenary session. They vowed not to remain silent against this dangerous assault on an important state institution. According to news reports, the judges’ association will be suspending all work in courts on Wednesday and Thursday. Judges will also hold a protest on Thursday.
Judicial organizations rejecting the move are planning protest actions. These include the Tunisian Association of Young Judges, Tunisian Judges Association and Young Magistrates Association, among others. CSM head Youssef Bouzakher was quoted by news outlets as saying that there is “no constitutional or legal basis whatsoever” which allows the president to dissolve the council. Anas Al-Hamaydi, head of the Association of Tunisian Judges, while speaking to a radio station noted that judges across Tunisia feel threatened by the president’s ‘confrontational’ attitude. He added that judges have begun consultations to take the necessary steps to protect the judiciary and the sanctity of the courts.
Following the announcement on Sunday, G7 countries including Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK, US, along with the European Union (EU), issued a joint statement saying that they are “deeply concerned” and “a transparent, independent and efficient judiciary and the separation of powers are essential for a functioning democracy that serves its people.” The Tunisian Ennahda party, the largest party in the currently suspended parliament, said on behalf of the legislative body that it rejects the move and expressed solidarity with the judges. Three other political parties – Attayar, Joumhouri and Ettakatol – released a joint statement rejecting the move.
Despite such strong opposition, president Saied is likely to go ahead with the controversial decision. He is yet to officially release the decree which will implement the dissolution of the council. During a meeting with the Tunisian prime minister on Monday, he said the decree is “ready” and “it is necessary to take this measure” to tackle corruption and bias in the judiciary. The current prime minister, Najla Bouden Romdhane, was hand-picked by the president himself after he dismissed the government and suspended the parliament in July last year.
Several commentators have claimed that CSM is being targeted as it is the only remaining independent body in the governing structure in Tunisia that is not controlled by the president. The president in a series of highly contentious actions assumed all executive and legislative powers in the country, which was widely condemned as unconstitutional and amounting to a “presidential coup”. He further consolidated his grip on power by suspending parts of the constitution and declared that he can rule by issuing decrees. He also announced the formulation of a new constitution to be preceded by a constitutional referendum on the issue. He has announced parliamentary elections in accordance with the new constitution. These measures have been met with vociferous opposition from all sections of Tunisian society, including political parties, trade unions, civil society groups, and ordinary citizens.