The most striking thing about the four judges on Morocco’s highest court who stopped by the federal press room in San Francisco’s courthouse Monday is their youth. They are part of a wave of reform that swept through the Middle East and into North Africa as part of the “Arab Spring.” In Morocco this meant demonstrations that lead to voter passage of a new constitution and reformation of the judiciary less than a year ago.
Although all four are between 32 and 42, they serve on Morocco’s Court of Cassation, the country’s supreme court.
Judge Mohamed Khadraoui said, “We are trying, in Morocco, to use people who are younger. You notice we are on the Supreme Court but are young. We believe youth can lead in the present and also in the future,” he said through a translator.
San Francisco is the third of four stops on the group’s U.S. tour exploring the differences between U.S. and Moroccan judicial systems and the relation between the judiciary and the media. The tour is sponsored by the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.
The jurists joining him included one woman.
Although they are the final arbiters of appeals through a three-tier system of courts, similar to the U.S. federal court system, that is where the similarity ends.
The court has 206 members and is divided into six branches based on specialty areas, rather than the geographic divisions used by appeals courts in the U.S. They include, civil, commercial, criminal, administrative, and what are called personnel status and social chambers.
They hear appeals in panels of five to 10 judges, depending on the type of case, according to Khadraoui.
But Khadraoui points out they don’t have the discretion to select cases but must review all appeals. He likened it to combining all the 50 state supreme courts in the U.S. into one body to hear appeals from across the country.
In addition to the Court of Cassation, Morocco has a separate constitutional court, with the power to review the constitutionality of actions by the government.
When asked whether that court has the power to review the constitutionality of decisions by his own court, Khadraoui said the constitutional court is a new thing and that issue has not been addressed. But he fully expects lawyers to raise the issue in the near future, he says.
A separate body, the Higher Council of the Judicial Branch, headed by the king, has authority to make judicial appointment and discipline judges. In an effort to protect judicial independence, the Council is now led by the chief judge of the Court of Cassation, rather than the minister of justice. But the system is so new the extent of judicial independence has not been fully tested.
A judgeship is not a patronage position. New lawyers, after graduation from law school, may choose to enter private practice or go into the judiciary. They then are promoted through the ranks of the courts, according to Khadraoui.
Morocco was a French colony until 1957 when it gained independence. Its law grows out of the French Napoleonic Code, rather than the adversarial system of the U.S., which also relies on common law.
Khadraoui said the courts rely on laws passed by Parliament for their rulings, rather than religious law but the law also incorporates precepts from German and Islamic law.
But he said family law is governed by Islamic sharia law.
This has been the subject of recent demonstrations and calls for reform of family law in the country in the wake of the suicide of a 16-year-old girl who was compelled by her family and the family court to marry her rapist.
The four judges have already made stops in Washington, D.C. and Reno, Nevada and are now headed for New York City after their San Francisco visit.
Joining Khadraoui were Judges Rajae el Marahi, Ali Rhezouani and Abdelkafi Waryachi.
Ultimately, he said they have learned a great deal from their American experience and come away with a very positive view of how Americans conduct their lives. He found “a lot to admire” in the culture and society.
He praised the long-standing positive relations between the U.S. and Morocco. “You know, Morocco was the first country to recognize the United States as a new nation” in 1777.
Court of Cassation: to read in English version use the translation function in Google Chrome
Photo: Judge Khadraoui and Trial Insider’s Pamela MacLean