Three Lebanese judges resign over political interference, low pay

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Three senior Lebanese female judges have tendered their resignations in protest at political interference and the collapse in the value of their pay as a financial and political crisis rages.

A political system based on sectarian balance and patronage has led to decades of economic mismanagement and corruption, and has undermined a legal system where many judges are appointed for their loyalty rather than effectiveness.

There is dramatic evidence of this in a campaign by politicians to hobble a judicial inquiry into last year's catastrophic Beirut port blast.

"This is a wake-up call about everything that is going wrong: the living conditions, the political intervention - basically the country is falling apart," Rola Husseini, who quit as head of Beirut's Criminal Court of Appeal, told Reuters.

Husseini was recently passed up for a position at the top judicial body, the Higher Judicial Council, which went to a judge seen as close to the parliamentary speaker.

Judge Jeanette Hanna, who has resigned from Beirut's Appeals Court, declined to comment while Carla Kassis, who stepped down from the Court of Cassation, could not be reached for comment.

The resignations have not yet been accepted by the Judicial Council because the judges are "exceptional members of the judiciary", a Council spokesperson said.

Hanna recently issued a ruling that rejected attempts by former ministers charged over the explosion to remove the judge heading the inquiry. She was then targeted with a lawsuit seeking her removal from the case.

The spokesperson also confirmed that a fourth judge, Ziad Mkanna, had resigned about a month ago. Mkanna had investigated malpractice allegations against Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh.

Justice Minister Henry Khoury did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Husseini said the three female judges would ask the council to take concrete measures to strengthen the judiciary and then decide whether or not to withdraw their resignations.

"We're saying that there are judges in Lebanon who are independent and not affiliated with any (politicians), and there is a massive, shameful attack on them," Husseini said.

"Someone has to stand with us."

(Reporting by Timour Azhari; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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