Beinisch: Make courts independent
Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch said yesterday she wants to turn the court system into a completely independent authority, with no administrative or financial dependence on the Justice Ministry.
Currently, the Courts Administration is a unit of the Justice Ministry, and the ministry therefore has some input into both appointments and budgets. The idea of complete independence was first promoted by Beinisch's predecessor, Aharon Barak.
"Only in the last few months, since becoming Supreme Court president, has it become clear to me how severe the courts' administrative lack of independence is," Beinisch said, speaking at a rare press conference. "The dependence on [the justice minister] is enormous. We are dependent on outside parties in matters of budgeting, construction and logistics."
For instance, Beinisch has drafted a plan to make the courts' management more efficient, but parts of it require legislation - which means cooperation from the justice minister.
"For years, a campaign has been waged to undermine public faith in the court, and all kinds of people are engaged in this campaign," she continued, without elaborating. "We have no time for conflicts with a minister or anyone else. I want to get things moving."
Beinisch was careful not to directly attack the current justice minister, Daniel Friedmann, but the platform she outlined clearly contradicted his at several key points.
"What is happening now is undermining the attractiveness of being a judge," she declared. "Scrutinizing the candidates has become the fashion, and every judge is considered suspect in advance. A judicial candidate knows he is embarking on hard labor. He will not earn what people earn in the private sector, he will sit in a tiny cell, and every day he will read in the paper about the mistakes he made. The fact is that private-sector lawyers don't want to go this route. We are not managing to find suitable candidates among [private] lawyers. Instead of this being the most desirable job, we are undermining it."
Regarding Friedmann's bill to restrict the Supreme Court's power to overturn Knesset legislation, Beinisch said that while she does not object to the provision limiting this power to nine-justice panels, she does oppose the provision that would enable the Knesset to reinstate laws overturned by the court. The Canadian constitution, on which this proposal is based, was the result of a political compromise unsuited to Israel's situation, she said.
She also said that any such law should be part of a constitution, and not enacted separately.
Beinisch also opposes any change in the Judicial Appointments Committee's composition, such as the addition of politicians or professors. "You don't do this overnight; this is part of our constitution," she said. "The committee, in my view, is critical to the [judicial] system's character and independence. It is no accident that the system was built with a professional majority on the committee, with respectable representation for the political sector. Many countries are envious of our model. The question is which concept you prefer - professional appointments or political ones. That's the heart of the matter."
Regarding Friedmann's idea of replacing two of the committee's three Supreme Court justices with lower court judges, she demanded: "If Professor Friedmann or others were appointing university professors, would the appointments be made by doctoral students?"
Beinisch also objected to Friedmann's idea of canceling the seniority system, under which the Supreme Court president is always the longest-serving justice on the court, and said that while one or two professors or private-sector lawyers on the court would be acceptable, most justices should come from either the lower courts or the state prosecution.
Explaining her recent letter to the Judicial Appointments Committee, in which she urged it to appoint new judges immediately and postpone discussion of ways to improve the screening of candidates, she said the shortage of judges had reached crisis proportions, and if not dealt with now, was liable to become so great that "we won't be able to catch up."
"I hope the justice minister will study the system's needs and understand that his plans, precisely because they are revolutionary, are long-term and require serious examination," she said. "It is very important to appoint new judges quickly ... The percentage of errors is not sufficient to justify halting the appointments."
She also denied that the committee needs more information than it has to screen candidates, saying, "There are not many civil service positions where as much is known about the candidates as in the judiciary."
Friedmann argues that the committee often has too little information to make intelligent choices.