The deputy head of the Israel Bar Association has come out saying that many judges in Israel are ill suited for their job.
"The picture that emerged is a national disaster. If up until several months ago I thought the public's trust in the judiciary system had been hurt by reforms like those instituted by Minister Daniel Friedmann - I now think the problem is that the public is experiencing an unhealthy judiciary," Ron Gazit said.
Gazit made these comments to Haaretz based on his activities as a member of the Strasberg-Cohen committee, which is formulating a code of conduct for judges in the courtroom and their management of hearings. Heading the panel is retired Supreme Court Justice Tova Strasberg-Cohen, who among other things established the office of national ombudsman for public complaints concerning judges.
The committee, set up at the initiative of Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch and Israel Bar Association head attorney Yuri Guy-Ron, is made up of judges and lawyers, the most senior of whom is Gazit. Its members have met with scores of people working in the justice system over the past several months and the panel is expected to submit its conclusions within a few months.
The problem revealed to the committee is extensive and far-ranging, Gazit declares. He says, for instance, that in the committee sessions, complaints have kept coming up - and not necessarily from lawyers - that quite a number of judges do not have a suitable temperament for their work. In his opinion, this is problem of a considerable group, and certainly not just a case of a few individuals.
One frequent complaint repeated by lawyers appearing before the Strasberg-Cohen panel is that a considerable number of judges summon too many litigants for the same time slot, and create overloading and crowding; furthermore, because of the pressure that is created, they address the lawyers in harsh and impatient language. Many judges arrive late to court or schedule a session for an early time, but the proceedings actually only get under way in the afternoon. Quite a number of cases were mentioned to the panel in which judges refused to record what happened in the session in the transcript, even when the lawyer requested this. Sometimes the judges' outbursts at the lawyers occur in front of clients, according to the complaints voiced, and some judges impose time limits on lawyers - although with the top attorneys they are apparently more forgiving.
"Judges came before the committee and said they have impossible working conditions," relates Gazit. "One judge said he needs to get to his chambers by walking through litigants in a courtroom, and there are judges who share chambers with other people. There is inhuman pressure here and one has to be an angel in order to survive."
Gazit says he hopes the committee's conclusions will be of value - that they will both "be internalized and be operative" - so that significant measures will be taken against judges and lawyers who violate codes of proper conduct.
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