Egypt: Dispute Resolution: Litigation
Litigation has long been seen as the most common form of dispute resolution in Egypt. In the last few decades, however, arbitration has been steadily gaining recognition as a viable form of alternative dispute resolution. This is due to the sheer number of cases that burden Egyptian courts as well as the judicial system’s inability to integrate modern technological solutions in its procedures.
However, 2020 has seen a real shift towards the modernisation of the Egyptian judicial system by enacting and empowering digital innovation within the court system. The Egyptian court system has been more resistant to modernisation in comparison to other public institutions. Thus, such a positive step forward is crucial to the continued reforms taking place in Egypt since 2015.
A Drive Towards Modernisation
Civil and Criminal Courts
Digitising and modernising the Egyptian judicial system was highly prioritised by the Ministry of Justice in 2020 not only to improve and streamline litigation procedures but also in order to instil a sense of confidence in the judiciary that would, in turn, create a more hospitable environment for domestic and foreign investments. With the outbreak of Covid-19, such steps became a national necessity in order to slow the spread of the virus.
One of the main pillars of digitising procedures is the new governmental website - www.digital.gov.eg - which allows for, among other services, the virtual filing of civil lawsuits. Once registered, an attorney can easily choose for the court to file a case and register all litigants’ information, their claims and demands, after which an automatic QR Code is assigned to the case. It is also worth noting that as of June 2020, seven courts of first instance adopted a pilot programme in which court procedures were digitised, including electronic payment and notification. This programme is expected to be completed in 2021 after assessing the success of the pilot programme, equipping the courts and training personnel. Not only will such a programme curtail unnecessary physical interactions and crowding in courts, it will also reduce the possibility of internal corruption and expedite judicial procedures.
The Ministry of Justice has also launched long-distance pre-trial detention renewal hearings for criminal cases through connecting the court to jails via a closed intranet connection.
Additionally, a decree by the Minister of Justice (no. 8548 of 2020) has provided a much-needed regulatory framework for e-filing litigations by inaugurating an electronic registry for litigation before the Egyptian Economic Courts. This comes after landmark amendments to the Economic Courts law (no. 120 of 2008 as amended by Law no. 146 of 2019) allowing litigants to file suits and notices electronically. However, the application of e-filing before the Economic Courts was contingent upon issuing regulations on the electronic registry. The decree creates a unified electronic registry to record the chosen email addresses for individuals and entities willing to receive the electronic litigation service, in order to be notified electronically of all case procedures. The decree lists the procedures required by public and private entities to be registered in the electronic registry, including the documents required for registration by individuals, ministries, public entities, governorates, banks, companies, law firms, etc.
It is worth mentioning that the Decree distinguishes between two categories of individuals and entities. There are entities that must be registered on the electronic registry, primarily entities that are concerned with the application of the Economic Courts law, including public entities and authorities, local and foreign companies, and law firms. There are also entities that may register on electronic register, namely any individual who so chooses. Those wishing to register on the electronic register may do so on the Economic Courts’ electronic litigation website.
The decree also stipulates that an electronic notification sent to a registered person or entity shall be deemed as received from the date that the notification was sent. This important effect aims to eliminate all notification issues due to clerks’ or bailiffs’ delays. As soon as an electronic notification is sent, all its legal effects and any related procedural duration take immediate effect.
In addition to the progress made in litigation procedures, the Ministry of Justice has launched several digitisation efforts in relation to the notary public and the services it provides which are also available on the governmental digital services website. Such efforts are both an attempt to expedite services given to the public as well as reducing the significant footfall on notary public offices, the overcrowding of which causes serious virus transmission dangers.
Overhaul of Civil and Criminal Procedures
The Civil Procedures Law has also been the subject of significant changes in 2020. In order to improve the quality of judicial services offered to the public, a change was needed in order to reduce the number of cases that may travel through the judicial chain. As such, amendments made to the aforementioned law in September 2020 have been primarily geared towards increasing the threshold for appeal.
First, courts of first instance can now make final judgments on cases whose value does not exceed EGP15,000 - up from an initial threshold of EGP5,000. Second, the value threshold for the right to appeal before the Court of Cassation has been increased to EGP250,000 from EGP100,000. Such values were in dire need of a rise given that the last increase had been in 2007. Since then, the currency has been significantly devalued.
On the other hand, an amendment to the Criminal Procedures Law also took place in 2020 stipulating the non-disclosure of victim information by police officers or prosecutors has been considered a triumph for the right to privacy for witnesses and victims who would often not come forward for fear of exposure.
2020 was a year filled with challenges and changes in the judicial system. The outbreak of Covid-19 necessitated fast-tracking all modernisation plans in order to control the spread of the virus. This resulted in a flurry of changes that will bear long-lasting fruits not just for the judicial system but also for the Egyptian investment climate and the economy as a whole. Bringing essential government services into the digital age has been difficult and the journey is far from over. However, 2020 has been pivotal in its ability to accelerate efforts and allowing changes to take place that may have previously seemed too ambitious. As such, 2021 promises to bring even more progress to the field of litigation.