Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch wants to make the Israeli Supreme Court more like its American counterpart by sharply reducing the number of cases it hears, thereby enabling it to focus solely on cases that involve major legal principles.

The Israeli Supreme Court currently hears some 12,000 cases a year, while the American court hears only about 80. Beinisch wants to reduce the Israeli court's caseload to American levels over a several-year period.

The plan, which is based in part on the 1997 Or Committee recommendations for reforming the court system, was unveiled yesterday at a briefing for reporters by acting director of the Courts Administration Moshe Gal.

"The situation in the Supreme Court is unacceptable," Gal said. "We've already obtained additional justices, but it didn't reduce [the workload]. Supreme Court justices should only write verdicts on matters that interest them. A way must be found to enable them to deal only with matters of principle."

Reducing the court's workload would necessitate creating another layer of courts between the district courts and the Supreme Court. Currently, since every case is automatically entitled to one appeal, the Supreme Court must hear appeals of any case that begins in a district court. If this role were taken over by an intermediate layer of appellate courts, the Supreme Court could choose which appeals of those courts' decisions it wished to hear, and would presumably accept only those involving a major legal principle.

Regarding the problem of slow trials and lengthy delays in issuing verdicts among the court system as a whole, Gal said he favored hiring a group of management experts to create a "management plan" for every judge.

"There are very good judges who fall behind in issuing verdicts because they don't know how to manage their cases," he said. "The goal is to improve the legal system by 10 percent. That would be like saving 55 judges."

Another idea, borrowed from the Canadian system, is to run workshops that would train judges to issue verdicts "on the spot" - something, Gal said, that does not come naturally to many judges, but would save time. "Writing a verdict in the courtroom takes 20 minutes," he said. "Writing the same verdict in chambers takes two hours, and if [the judge] takes the case home, it will take a day or two."

Gal also wants to amend the Arbitration Law to make arbitration a more attractive alternative to litigation. "We'll soon begin a pilot of a mediation program based on the Michal Rubinstein Committee's report," he said. "The Arbitration Law is an outdated law from 1968. If I were a lawyer today, I would also not choose arbitration. But if arbitration were a reasonable alternative, this ought to reduce the workload."

Finding ways to decrease judges' caseloads is not just essential for litigants and defendants; it is also essential for the judges themselves, so that they do not need to devote all their time to work, Gal stressed. "I want them to be able to watch television, go to the theater, be involved in society," he said.

On another issue, Gal said that Beinisch favored passing legislation that would formalize the existing division of labor between the justice minister and the Supreme Court president, whereby the former is responsible for administrative issues and the latter for judicial issues.