Out of court

Monday, March 7, 2011

Speedy Justice after the Egyptian Revolution?

We are all happy to see Hosni Mubarak go. When I was in Egypt late last year, people grumbled about the 'old pharoah,' but no one hinted at what would happen this year. And now the revolution kicks in with the nitty gritty: trials of the deposed leaders.

The "once feared and powerful" Habib el-Adly, Interior minister and head of the hated security apparatus of the deposed regime, came into court and pled not guilty to corruption charges. The allegation is that he sold a piece of public land to a contractor for personal gain. This kind of corruption was apparently endemic in the Mubarak era. No doubt people who stuffed their pockets in public jobs should be prosecuted.

But so fast. . . the new regime has been in power only since February 11, and an indictment has already been prepared? Does this bode well for due process as we understand it? It seems typical of many revolutions to rush to judgment, particulary harsh ones for the former officer-holders. I think of Madame Defarge knitting while the nobles of the 'ancien regime' had their heads lopped off in short order.

During el-Adly's 'arraignment,' one of the lawyers was screaming insults at the accused. Now, I've had prosecutors lambast my clients but not by screaming at an arraignment. Luckily the judge displayed a cooler head. He quickly shut the lawyer up, calmed down the proceedings, and then postponed it a month--to allow the defense lawyers to review the documents.

This is speedy justice compared to our tortuous system. To begin with, it would have taken U.S. prosecutors months not 2 weeks to prepare an indictment this important, and then the defendant would be given ample time to review the prosecutor's case before going to trial. Although slow and deliberate, our rules require a speedy trial, which more often than not the accused agrees to extend to allow for more time to investigate the case. Justice cannot be speedy if the accused needs more time.

Speedy justice really means hurried justice which usually means no justice at all. Besides, speedy justice allows emotion to prevail, not law and reason. So the pace of events in the Egyptian court portends trouble. In the meantime, Egypt is working out a new constitution and a system to ensure fair elections. I hope they reform their society with all deliberate speed, but not in a rush to judgment.

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