Bench reform hits the Supreme Court
Bench reform hits the Supreme Courtphoto: file

The Knesset passed a bill into law on Monday that would, for the first time, amend the way Supreme Court Justices are selected. First tabled by Knesset Member Gideon Sa'ar (Likud), the law was approved by a vote of 52 to 11 in its second and third reading.

When the law goes into effect at the next meeting of the panel appointed to select judges, election of a judge to the Supreme Court will require the approval of a special majority of seven out of the nine-person Judges' Nomination Committee. Until now, a normal majority was sufficient for the selection of a judge for any bench, including the Supreme Court.

The Committee is composed of the President of the Supreme Court and two other Supreme Court justices, the Minister of Justice and one other minister, two members of the Opposition Members of Knesset (MKs), and two representatives of the Israel Bar Association. Nominations go to the President of the State for final, formal appointment to their posts.

Criticism had been leveled at the Nominations Committee suggesting that, because of the structure of the selection process, new justices were more than likely to be of one political or judicial point of view. This charge takes on importance in matters of national policy as well, since the justices of the Supreme Court also sit on the High Court of Justice, which hears citizens' petitions against government actions. Procedurally, another criticism of the nominations process was that the Supreme Court is essentially electing itself by heavily influencing the Nominations Committee's final vote.

New justices were more than likely to be of a single political or judicial point of view.

Following the vote, MK Sa'ar said, "The historic reform in the way Supreme Court justices are selected, which goes into effect today, is a substantial move that will allow all the elements represented in the [Nominations] Committee to have a real impact.... The change in the way Supreme Court justices are chosen will increase the pluralism in the makeup of the Supreme Court, will minimize the unending conflicts within the Judges' Nomination Committee and will increase the dialogue [among its members]."

Noting the strong opposition that calls for complete restructuring of the justice system have garnered from those seeking to protect it from radical change, Sa'ar said, "There is a third way of measured and balanced changes in the justice system, and that is the way of this law."