Complaints about the mounting work load in the courts appear to be countered by data that show that fewer cases are being sent for deliberation each passing year.
Official data from the Courts Administration show that in 2002, each judge in the country received on average 1,502 new cases - but in 2010 the number dropped to 1,119.
The Finance Ministry says that even though 180 new judicial slots were opened during the past decade, the judges are, on average, closing fewer cases each year: In 2004 a judge would close 1,500 cases on average, whereas in 2010, the average was 1,150.
However, the Courts Administration maintains that in recent years the number of "mega-cases" has increased and these normally include many defendants, witnesses and large volumes of written material; dealing with them demands prolonged work by many judges and prevents them from deliberating routine cases. According to the administration, there are 43 mega-cases ongoing in 2011, and these are being handled by 70 judges, who dedicate most of their time to them.
The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, headed by MK David Rotem, will meet this morning to discuss the work load of the courts and its impact on the judges, in view of the suicide last week of Local Affairs Court Judge Maurice Benatar, in Jerusalem.
Participating in the discussion will be Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, and the presidents of the District and Magistrates Courts. Finance Ministry director general Haim Shani will also take part in the meeting.
Statistics show that in 2002, more than 740,000 significant cases were brought to the 493 judges who were on the roster at the time, while last year 697,000 cases were brought before 623 judges.
The Courts Administration says that if Israel is to approximate the ratio of judges to cases in Western countries, it would have to double its number of judges. However, the Finance Ministry says that in recent years there has been a substantial increase in the number of judicial posts that have opened up.
In addition to these posts, the treasury says that some 630 other support staff were brought into the system, while the number of administration's own staff increased from 2,600 in 2000 to 3,720 at present.
The Finance Ministry maintains that the number of judges does not reflect the number of cases closed each year on average: In 2004 a judge closed some 1,500 cases, but in 2009 that figure dropped to 1,070; in 2010 the number of cases closed on average was 1,150. On the other hand, demand for the services of the courts has increased over the years.
The treasury said yesterday that an outside company is expected to examine the functioning of the courts in order to offer recommendations for improvements to the system.
Retired Judge Dan Arbel, former chief administrator of the courts, says that mega-cases have existed in the past. The problem, he says, stems "primarily from the neglect of the management tool that is the Center for Management and Case Assignment [CMCA], which was developed at the time when I administered the system, and which was meant to serve as the primary management tool for the courts."
The CMCA was "to be set up in every court and bring about the closing of many of the cases before they were even brought before judges, by sending them to mediation and arbitration. Judge Benatar was flooded with cases, most of them minor, which should have been closed earlier at the CMCA," Arbel adds.
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