The judicial ombudsman, retired Supreme Court justice and former state comptroller Eliezer Goldberg, paints a dire picture of the judiciary's conduct in his annual report released Tuesday. Goldberg, who served for more than three decades on all levels of the judiciary, complains about foot-dragging by judges and their unreasonable delays in issuing rulings.
In the spirit of the saying "justice delayed is justice denied," the ombudsman says that "justice delayed is lame justice." Last year the ombudsman received more than 1,000 complaints, 10 percent of which were found to be justified. Many of the complaints were about delays and judges' inappropriate behavior in court.
The report also exposes disrespect shown toward courts by lawyers. Goldberg does not ignore that judges have difficult and exhausting workloads, but he says this is not always a justification and insists on "dealing with the problem at its root."
In recent years, the judiciary has striven to shorten waiting periods, and the number of pending cases has declined. Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch is leading what she calls "a quiet revolution" aimed to have cases heard on consecutive days. She also wants more immediate rulings and the two sides in a case to present their arguments orally.
Judges will thus be able to rely on fresh impressions of what witnesses have said. A pilot program for hearing cases on consecutive days is underway at the Jerusalem District Court, and the trial of former president Moshe Katsav is being carried out this way.
To fully address the untenable situation, extreme care must be taken in picking judges, who must be able to deal with the pressure and heavy workloads. The few judges who fail to meet the system's requirements should retire, and some cases should be sent to arbitration and mediation.
It is also appropriate to evaluate the ombudsman's proposal that he receive legal authority to initiate inquiries into complaints of shortcomings in judges' behavior or work.
We also need cooperation between the judiciary, Justice Ministry and the Israel Bar Association. Improving the system and understanding its obligation to provide reasonable service to its many clients is an essential public interest.
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