Lebanese cabinet ministers are currently reviewing a bill submitted by the justice ministry that seeks to strengthen judicial independence.
The bill, which proposes a number of amendments to the country's judiciary law, has garnered support from officials and legal specialists since it was announced May 8th.
The draft law will "increase the independence of the judiciary on a gradual basis", said Justice Minister Chakib Cortbaoui, who appointed the committee of retired judges and lawyers who helped him write the bill.
The bill would expand the Higher Judicial Council -- whose members are currently appointed solely by Lebanon's executive branch -- from 10 members to 14 members. Twelve council members would be active judges, and the 13th would be a former judge selected by the justice minister from among five names submitted by the permanent members of the Higher Judicial Council.
The 14th member would be a former bar association president, chosen by the justice minister from among four names proposed by the current presidents of the Beirut and Tripoli bar associations.
The bill also stipulates that council terms be extended from three to four years, and that its members be prohibited from serving another term on the council until two terms after their initial membership.
It gives council authority over judicial selections, such as appointments, promotions and transfers, without requiring a decree from the president, prime minister and justice minister in the event there is a dispute between the council and the justice minister over the appointments.
Lawyers said the draft law is a positive but partial step, adding that further steps are needed to reform Lebanon's judiciary.
"The bill is one of many steps necessary to achieve independence of the judiciary, which will require that existing laws be amended," said Ramzi Jreij, the former president of the Beirut Bar Association and a member of the committee that wrote the draft law.
Jreij told Al-Shorfa the proposed amendments are insufficient if they are not accompanied by a genuine political will to strengthen judicial independence.
However, "a partial reform is better than no reform at all", he said.
It is important the bill coincides with other reforms, like instituting regular performance evaluations for judges, conducting judicial inspections, implementing a reward and punishment system and activating the role of the disciplinary committee, Jreij said.
Youssef Saadallah Khoury, former head of the country's Shura Council, also said the draft law would strengthen the Higher Judicial Council and that further reforms are needed.
"[The bill] is not enough, considering the prevailing political circumstances in the country," he said.
Khoury said the bill is limited in scope because it does not address the financial and administrative pillars of Lebanon's judiciary.
In addition, it is a problem that judges alone do not administer the judiciary, he said.
"The judiciary's biggest problem is that the legal and constitutional laws providing for the independence of the judiciary are not respected by the political authority," Khoury said.
Judicial appointment, selection, promotion and disciplinary processes, entrusted under current laws to the political authority, are among the major issues that undermine the judiciary's independence, he said.
"This runs contrary to the principle of separation of powers enshrined in the Lebanese constitution," Khoury said, adding that appointments, promotions and disciplinary actions must be left to the judges themselves.
Attorney Nassif Abou Dargham said he believes judicial independence requires that attorneys play an active role.
"The Justice Ministry's bill is a positive step, but needs to be completely [developed] to achieve the desired results," Abou Dargham said. "That can be accomplished with the inclusion of representatives from the Bar Association [in the Higher Judicial Council]."
He told Al-Shorfa that a truly independent judiciary will be attained when "the members of the Higher Judicial Council are not appointed by decree of the executive branch because whoever is appointed by decree can similarly be removed by decree".
Abou Dargham said he supports "complete independence of the judiciary" coupled with putting controls in place, such as periodic elections of Higher Judicial Council members and selecting judges based on specific job competencies.