Justice Minister Proposes Reform of Supreme Court

Justice Minister Friedmann has proposed his most serious reform aimed at curbing the ability of the Supreme Court to appoint its own members.

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Ezra HaLevi and Gil Ronen,

Chief Justice Beinisch and JM Friedmann
Chief Justice Beinisch and JM Friedmann

Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann has proposed his most serious reform aimed at curbing the ability of the Supreme Court to appoint its own members.

Friedmann’s proposal would change the composition of the Committee for Selection of Judges, responsible for choosing judges for the Supreme Court. The proposal will increase the committee to 11 members from 9. Instead of three Supreme Court judges, only two will sit in the committee, and there will be three new appointments: a retired judge and an academic - both appointed by the government, and another academic - appointed by the Council of University Heads.

The Committee for Selection of Judges currently is chaired by the Minister of Justice, includes another government minister, as well as the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and two other Supreme Court judges. In addition, it includes two Knesset members (one from the coalition and one from the opposition) and two representatives of the Bar Association.

In addition, Friedmann wants search committees to locate candidates for the Supreme Court and the widening of the committees in charge of appointing lower-court judges – something that will reduce the Supreme Court’s influence on the composition of those courts as well.

Of his proposals, Friedmann wrote: “These proposals are meant to change the composition of the Judges Selection Committee in order to broaden the range of opinions represented there and to allow for greater public involvement in the election of the Supreme Court justices."

Condemnations Fast and Fierce
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch issued a special announcement in response to Friedmann's latest move Wednesday. According to Beinisch, the reforms proposed by the Justice Minister will lead to a weakening in the status of the Supreme Court, will undermine the authority held by the Supreme Court's President, will politicize the judge appointment process and hurt judicial independence.

Beinisch said she learned of the proposals through the media, and there had been no prior consultation with her. She said the proposal was a "double dilution" of the judges' role, because their number in the committee will decrease from three to two, and also because the total number of members will grow from 9 to 11.

The Chairman of the Knesset's Interior Committee, MK Ofir Pines-Paz (Labor), called on Justice Minister Friedmann to resign Wednesday. He said that changing the makeup of the Committee for Selection of Judges will cause a coalition crisis.

"I do not understand what Friedmann's problem is with regard to the current committee," Pines said. He claimed the move was part of the “war” Friedmann has declared on the justice system and his attempts to curb the power of the Supreme Court.

Retired Supreme Court Judge Dalia Dorner, a proponent of the court’s activism on leftist and human rights issues, also attacked Friedmann: "Until now, the judiciary functioned as a separate branch of government, headed by the Supreme Court… The new bills will cause a rapid decline of the Judiciary," she said, "isolating the individual judges and giving the Justice Minister a say over their future."

Former Judge Defends Friedmann
"Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann's suggestions actually reduce politicization, but the discussion around them is not on-topic," said Judge Uri Shtruzman. "Every initiative that Minister Friedmann comes up with is like a red flag for many people."   

Shtruzman, who sat in the Tel Aviv district court, said he supported the minister's initiatives, "although they can be improved here or there."

"Ever since the Supreme Court became an active court which deal not only with pure questions of law and jurisprudence, but also in political matters – the public's trust in it has deteriorated," Shtruzman said.