If the judges continue to boycott the Israel Bar Association's activities because the association publishes the marks that the lawyers award each judge in the association's evaluation survey; if the association continues to behave as if it were waging a holy war; and if the judges continue to employ media consultants while the association yells that its members are being harassed - only the public will suffer. It is the silent public, not the bickering parties, that bears the consequences of faults of the judicial system and pays the price.
The idea of obtaining feedback, in and of itself, is not bad. It is even good. The main problem lies in the zealous enthusiasm exhibited by the association heads for criticism at any price, as well as in the problematic nature of the survey. The names of the judges who received poor marks were published in big letters alongside those who received good marks. The former felt threatened, while the latter may fall prey to the ratings. Thus a small group of anonymous lawyers - whose identities not even the association knows, and whose motives are not always devoid of vengeance or insult - threatens unpopular judges with "we'll meet at feedback time."
The explanations offered for the publication on the one hand, and for the anonymity on the other, are reasonable, but the problematic nature of the survey remains.
The former president of the Supreme Court, retired justice Meir Shamgar, told Haaretz (February 27, 2004) that the power of the justice system does not stem from any external commandment, but from the public consensus - backed by the governmental system - that dictates that the judge's honor must be preserved. Shamgar, a man who does not chase honor, but rather one whom honor chases, cannot be suspected of referring to personal honor, the prestige that hovers like a cloud over the man who sits on the judge's bench, even when he is stuck in a traffic jam or standing in line at the cinema.
It is reasonable to assume that he views the term "honor" in its cultural context, and no less than that - in the deep context drawn from the spirit of the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty. This honor, according to Shamgar's words, is supposed to safeguard the fragile consensus that defines the relations between the judicial system and the public - not for the sake of the judges' personal gain, but rather for the good of the public and for the good of democracy.
This is how Shamgar defined the soft underbelly of the judicial system. That soft underbelly, which Shamgar is justifiably striving to protect, also exposes the great weakness of the system, which the judges themselves were supposed to fix, but failed.
Among themselves, more than a few judges admit that the deterioration of their profession and the contempt for the system can also be blamed on some of the judges, whose escapades are whispered about in the corridors. Each and every one of the courts has uncouth judges, who harm those being judged and their representatives; other judges do not prepare properly for hearings; many others drag cases out insufferably. The best judges should be interested in the eviction of those elements that are causing the system such serious damage.
Will the evaluation survey contribute to solving the problems? In the atmosphere that has been created, so saturated with mutual suspicion, there is so much desire for vengeance and so much aggressive competition that a solution is doubtful. The association should probably improve its questionnaire, mainly in order to prevent it from being dominated by political cliques or other interested parties. It is already too late to rescind it.
There is no option other than for the two sides to calm tempers and turn over a new leaf. The evaluation survey, even if it is fixed and upgraded, will not solve all the system's problems anyway. These can only be solved when the ombudsman is given enough time to improve its work methods, and perhaps also open the results of its investigations to the general public.
The lawyers, if they examine the issue honestly, will have to come to the realization that an evaluation survey cannot remain the exclusive realm of a limited public.
Do you want feedback? Then why not pass the evaluation survey on to those who are being judged, the ones who pay the price of the system's faults? Let every plaintiff and defendant fill out an evaluation questionnaire as he leaves the courtroom. Let him evaluate the judges, the court, the lawyers and the connection between the law and the ruling and between the ruling and justice. Let the public judge. Anyone who wants democracy cannot lend a hand to its restriction.
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