Right to litigation in Egypt threatened by increasing fees

19

The Egyptian Public Prosecution approved a new fee increase for issuing various judicial certificates and documents related to the records and cases it investigates through a new mechanism for calculating the costs, some of which have multiplied by about ten times. Legalists considered the decision a violation of the Egyptian constitution, which stipulates that “litigation is a protected and guaranteed right for all,” and a violation of the law and judicial rulings, which state that “there are no fees except following the law.”

Anger among lawyers

The new mechanism for calculating fees for issuing judicial documents, which the Public Prosecution Office began applying a few days ago, sparked widespread controversy among lawyers in a way that the North Giza Bar Association called its members for an urgent meeting to discuss these “unjustified” fees, as described by the union. In its statement, the Syndicate affirmed that the lawsuit for that meeting comes “out of its belief and in response to the pulse of the General Assembly of North Giza lawyers in particular and Egyptian lawyers in general, and their unbridled desire to confront the judiciary’s encroachment on constitutional and legal rights by imposing unjustified fees that violate the constitution and the law,” stressing that “the imposition of fees must be by law and not by administrative instructions.”

According to the High Appeal Lawyer and the State Council, Bassem Tariq, the judicial fees due for the issuance of documents and testimonies before the date of the implementation of this mechanism on March 4 were limited to 3 types of costs, the total value of which does not exceed one and a half pounds per paper. He explained, “Now, according to the new mechanism, the Public Prosecution has begun to collect fees (fixed and variable) that differ according to the type of document, whether it is a certificate of misdemeanours, felonies, or violations, in addition to fees for mechanization services, the character of the martyr, and the development fee, in addition to an updated fee that is calculated according to years.” Searching for the case so that its value increases whenever the issue has been in circulation for a longer time in the Public Prosecution, and therefore the total value of the fee for one paper in a case filed in the current year 2023 increased to 17.7 pounds.

Tariq indicated that a lawyer who wishes to obtain a copy of a case with 100 papers is now required to pay about 1,800 pounds (58 dollars) after the total value of the fee for it did not exceed 200 pounds (6.5 dollars), “in an exaggerated manner.” “This will, of course, affect the ability of clients to exercise their right to litigation, which is constitutionally guaranteed.” He added that some of the fees included in the new fee estimation mechanism at the Public Prosecution Office “do not have legislative support in any applicable law, including the mechanized service fees, in violation of the constitution that prohibited imposing fees except by law.” This comes while the lawyers are fighting a battle to stop the implementation and cancel the decision of the Ministry of Finance and the Tax Authority to oblige them to register in the electronic bill system. They filed lawsuits with the administrative judiciary, which set the following March 18 session to pronounce the verdict.

Fiscal system

The Public Prosecution’s decision to increase the fees for documents issued by it is not the first of its kind in the Egyptian judicial system. Over the past few years, court presidents have imposed exorbitant fees for issuing judicial certificates and documents without legal basis. In 2020, Muhammad Al-Omdah, a businessman from Assiut Governorate, could not appeal against a ruling issued against him to terminate the contract of purchasing a retail store. However, that appeal is a guaranteed right for him. When his lawyer requested a copy of the ruling, the court refused to hand him the papers and demanded that he pay an amount of 214 thousand pounds (13.6 thousand dollars) for litigation expenses. Al-Omdah could not obtain the required amount, and he got a copy of the ruling when the 60-day deadline for filing an appeal before the Court of Cassation passed, and his right to resort to the various levels of litigation was lost. This procedure is considered a flagrant violation of the Civil and Commercial Procedure Law, which stipulates in Article 255 that the appellant must attach documents supporting the appeal to his appeal sheet. The employees of the court that issued the contested judgment must deliver “without asking for a fee” what the litigants are asking for in terms of copies of reviews, documents or papers.

In addition, the fees for obtaining certificates, copies and photocopying have been increased, as photocopying one paper in the case now costs 5 pounds. Suppose the average case papers are 200 papers. In that case, the amount required is 1000 pounds for one item only, which exceeds the capacity of most citizens 60% of them live below the poverty line or close to it, according to World Bank estimates dating back to 2019. As a result of this approach, the courts could increase and even double their financial proceeds. On February 23, 2022, the State Council (the judicial authority competent to hear administrative disputes filed against the government) announced the success of the Claims and Follow-up Unit for State Rights, which was established in September 2019, in collecting about One billion and 100 million pounds, under the item of judicial fees during three judicial years. The council stated that the total judicial costs collected during six months of the judicial year 2021/2022 amounted to more than 250 million pounds, compared to about 93 million pounds that the council obtained during the judicial year preceding the unit’s establishment (2018/2019). This gives just a glimpse of the increase in the number of fees imposed on citizens to obtain their right to litigation, and what makes it more difficult is the absence of a specific standard regarding fees that are applied in all courts, as each court is allowed to exercise its “discretion” in imposing costs on litigants in front of her.