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Courts Clamp Down on Judicial Foot-Dragging

Cases that drag on for years? The Supreme Court is trying to change this by enforcing stricter guidelines for judicial postponements.
By Hillel Fendel
First Publish: 5/2/2010, 12:37 PM / Last Update: 5/2/2010, 12:53 PM

Flash 90

Cases that drag on for years? The Supreme Court is trying to change it, by enforcing stricter guidelines for judicial postponements. Its judges have decided that the new guidelines that have been implemented in Israeli courts for postponements will apply to the Supreme Court as well.

As of June 1, requests to delay a hearing or trial will be considered only if they are submitted together with the new relevant forms. The new measure is an attempt to reduce as much as possible the number of cases that are postponed.

Chief Justice Dorit Beinisch explained the move at a recent gathering of the Israel Bar Association. In response to lawyers' complaints against the new regulations, Beinisch said, "The judicial system [in Israel] is backlogged on an international scale. There is a tremendous amount of hearings and trials, and the number of judges [15] is disproportionately small compared to the number of cases. As a result, we are unable to meet the timetables that we would like to."

"The way in which we all are used to working, both judges and lawyers, is based on over-booking," Beinisch said. "The only reason we are able to keep our heads above water is because we count on the postponements. The judges also feel good when things are postponed because that frees up time to write rulings… Even when both sides request an agreed-upon postponement, it really comes at the expense of the public. This is something that we have made it our goal to change."

Beinisch did not deny that the change will come at a price – "even a drastic one, in some ways. In appeals that come before the High Court of Justice, and where both sides agree to a postponement, we will consider the request in the courtroom itself. This will involve many difficulties - but there are many pointless postponements – about 50 percent... We have to use our common sense. It is better that we stretch the rope a little, in order that we can ease up a little in the future. I ask that the lawyers show patience and give this a chance. If we see that it doesn't work, we will change it."

Two Types of Supreme Court Cases
The Supreme Court's authorities are of two types. It acts as an appeals court in civil and criminal cases decided by District Courts, as well as issues such as election matters, prisoners' suits, administrative detention, and disciplinary measures against lawyers.

It also acts as the High Court of Justice, hearing suits against the legality of decisions made by the government, local authorities, and public officials.