2. Judicial System The judicial system is not functioning effectively, and suffers from the legacy of its past, when it was used as a tool of repression. At the time of the uprisings in February 2011, Libya had a parallel judicial system for cases deemed political and was subject to political pressure. Lawyers, judges, activists and other Libyans interlocutors told the Commission that while the judicial system was generally adequate for common law or civil cases; it lacked any independence and credibility in political cases. In fact, exceptional courts and prosecutions were created to address political cases. The People’s Court first created in 1971 to try members of the former royal family and others accused of corruption, continued to conduct closed-door trials of political opponents of the government and usually imposed harsh penalties. Until its abolition by Qadhafi in January 2005, this court spread fear and repression amongst the population and discouraged dissent of any kind. Even though abolished, a replacement was established in 2007 and renamed the Special Security Court. Government opponents and others perceived as a threat were convicted by the court in trials that did not meet the minimum standards of fair trial, including the right to adequate defence, the right to be informed of charges, and the right to appeal. It is therefore unsurprising that the judicial system collapsed in the aftermath of the conflict and continues to suffer from a lack of trust by victims seeking redress and the Libyan public at large.
Even those limited safeguards guaranteed by Libyan law – such as the right to a lawyer – were routinely flouted in political cases. Most suspects did not see their lawyers until their trial hearings, and lawyers were not provided information on their client’s case, severely impeding their ability to adequately defend them. Lawyers were not allowed into notorious political prisons like Abu Salim and Ein Zara, despite legal provisions stipulating the right of lawyers to visit their clients in detention. Such practices and abuses appear to now be repeating in the new Libya.
An additional political obstacle to judicial independence was Muammar Qadhafi’s almost unlimited power. The “Charter of Revolutionary Legitimacy” gave Qadhafi control over all of Libya’s political, judicial and economic institutions. His directives were of greater force and authority than any judicial rulings. This Charter also authorized him to intervene in judicial issues and to establish special or emergency courts to override the decisions of other courts.60