The Economic Arrangements Law is celebrating 25 years since its inception, when the Knesset, under the influence of the cabinet, was ready to relinquish in one fell swoop the right and duty of elected officials to pass laws only after debating and studying them.
The Economic Arrangements Law is a euphemism that allows the Finance Ministry, under the guise of the need for economic efficiency, to concoct an arrangement of the economy and society as it sees fit. It also give the treasury the opportunity to neutralize the Knesset by turning it into a legislature on paper only, with most of its members unable to evaluate what is being proposed.
What was intended as a temporary order in response to a difficult economic situation in 1985 has become an annual event, in which the Knesset strips itself of its legislative mantle. A law intended to deal solely with budgetary issues has become a catchall for basic overhauls of public policy in a variety of matters, from health and welfare to the media, education and streamlining the judicial system. This at the price of violating constitutional rights such as the right of disadvantaged members of society to have legal representation and access to the judicial system.
Far from the public eye, the Economic Arrangements Bill is being concocted for submission to the cabinet in the next few days and then to the Knesset in October. This flood of reforms, whose connection to achieving budgetary goals is tenuous in most cases, is supposed to be stemmed by the attorney general. He is the one who must stand in the breach and stop the finance and justice ministers, whose intentions may be good but whose headlong rush is leading to the destruction of the foundations of the democratic system, since the result is a rubber-stamp Knesset.
It's enough to take the judicial system as an example, a system struggling with an unreasonably heavy caseload and a serious shortage of judges, conditions that lower legitimate expectations for the conclusion of legal proceedings in a reasonable period of time. The draft Economic Arrangements Bill, which MK Shelly Yachimovich (Labor ) posted on her blog, does not fail to mention that the annual salary of a judge is more than NIS 1 million shekels - in order to draw a purported fiscal link between the bill and the legitimate economic purpose of the Economic Arrangements Law, which essentially proposes a fundamental, substantive revolution.
According to the proposal, appeals of rulings in the magistrate's and district courts will be heard in a higher court (a District Court or the Supreme Court ) by a single judge and not by three judges, as is the practice today. This proposal can indeed free up the judges to a significant extent. But it also leads to the curtailment of the right to appeal, which is a basic constitutional right.
Such a change requires serious and thorough debate, and cannot be carried out in one fell swoop. It is difficult to imagine that Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch would lend a hand to such a proposal, and her agreement is necessary, given that she sits at the head of the judicial system. In a 2004 ruling by the High Court of Justice, Beinisch wrote that the Economic Arrangements Law "makes it very difficult to have a thorough and exhaustive debate" and "harms the ability of the decision makers in the government and the Knesset to formulate a well-founded position." Then-justice Mishael Cheshin emphasized in that ruling that the Economic Arrangements Law, which revolutionized Israel's agriculture industry, passed without a chance for legislators to "read, reflect, and exchange views," causing him to "lament the legislative process that made the Knesset useless."
The High Court did not intervene and overturn the law, but Beinisch did rule that there can be judicial intervention "in rare and extreme cases" in which Knesset members are denied any practical possibility of presenting their positions, as is happening now. The High Court's reluctance to get rid of the Economic Arrangements Law on the grounds that it is only masquerading as a law is understandable. But using that law to make changes whose main purpose is something other than achieving budgetary goals must cease being a legitimate practice.
In his previous term, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin supported the criticism voiced by the High Court of Justice and fought against the Economic Arrangements Law, without sufficient support from the legislators. If the government continues to take control of the Knesset through the Economic Arrangements Law, the legislature will have to stand up for its role in the parliamentary system. Maybe this time.
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