Egypt on Monday upheld a decision by President Hosni Mubarak to have 40 members of the opposition Muslim Brotherhood, including the group’s third-in-command, tried by a military court.
The Supreme Administrative Court, headed by Judge Essam Abdul Aziz, reversed a May 8 ruling in a lower court which declared invalid the president's decision.
The court ruling effectively clears the way for the resumption of the military trial of the detainees, some of whom have been in police custody since December.
Lawyers for Egypt's strongest opposition group had called for a change of venue for the hearing on the grounds that the judges examining the previous ruling were all assigned to various government offices as paid consultants, and as such could not be impartial. The court rejected the motion.
"All these (judges) are assigned ... to the ministries and the presidency. So of course there's an objection to this body hearing a case ... where the opponent is the president," Brotherhood lawyer Abdel Moniem Abdel Maqsoud said.
A court ruled on May 8 that President Hosni Mubarak's referral of the detainees to military courts in February had been illegal, and said the defendants should be tried in civilian courts.
The military trial of the men, charged with money laundering and financing a banned organization, will resume on June 3.
One of the accused is the Brotherhood's financier and third-ranking official, Khayrat al-Shater.
The judge at the first ruling, Mohammed al-Husseini, said a military court would not "assure a fair trial" and the verdict was then described as "historic and unprecedented" by the banned but tolerated Brotherhood.
The defendants and around 100 relatives had filed a suit against Mubarak but the president's lawyers argued that he had "absolute power" in the matter.
Husseini said "there is nothing in Egyptian law called absolute power, so (Mubarak's) decision is illegal, because every decision must be based on the law and the constitution."
Egyptian authorities have kept Shater and the other accused behind bars in spite of a civilian court order in January to free the men.
The Egyptian regime has stepped up a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood since the group's stunning performance in the 2005 general elections that gave it around a fifth of seats in parliament.
Many observers argued at the time that the movement might have won a larger share of seats had the election not been marred by widespread fraud and voter obstruction.
Security forces targeted Brotherhood finances and detained or arrested hundreds. Parliament lifted the immunity of two members of the Brotherhood last Wednesday as a prerequisite for sending them to trial.
A set of constitutional amendments approved in a referendum in March gave Mubarak broad powers to transfer anyone suspected of "terrorism" to military courts, known for tough and swift verdicts. But the order transferring the detainees to the military courts was made before the constitution was changed.