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One of Israel's worst evils is the time it takes to complete judicial proceedings. In fact, it takes so long that Israel has become a paradise for crooks, who, quite simply, don't pay their debts, knowing that by the time a ruling is issued against them, they may have moved to another country, registered their business under their grandchildren's name or presented the courts with authorization that they are sick and infirm - and by then, their creditors would have long despaired and given up.

The problem with the system is the small number of judges dealing with such a large workload. Quite simply, 48O judges isn't enough. But the treasury has always objected to an increase in the number of judges as this would entail building a new court room for each judge at a cost of NIS 30 million a head. The cost, on the other hand, of a judge, an intern, an assistant and a secretary comes to only NIS 1 million a year.

The disparity between the costs led Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit to come up with a novel solution - a more efficient use of the existing means of production, namely courtrooms, by instating a second shift in the afternoons. In this manner, trials can proceed expeditiously and the plaintiffs (including the state in cases concerning debts to the tax authorities) will be able to collect their debts in a shorter time, thereby reducing miscarriages and delays of justice.

Sheetrit ruled that implementation of the second shift would begin at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court and, indeed, the Judicial Appointments Committee has already selected nine out of the 10 judges slated to serve on the second shift at the court. The remaining judge is due to be appointed shortly and all 10 are to be sworn in by the president at the end of December, and to commence their work on January 1, 2003.

However, established attorneys are not happy with the initiative. The head of the Israel Bar Association, Shlomo Cohen, and the remainder of the veteran establishment have been looking for ways to scuttle the second shift initiative. They even took up the feminist case, claiming that women attorneys would find it difficult to work afternoons - exasperating paternalism.

They also decided to look out for the state coffers by pointing out that the second shift would cost the state large sums of money - how touching.

Cohen also claimed that attorneys would now have to work from morning to night, causing a severe disruption to their lifestyle".

If they don't want to work from morning to night, then perhaps they should leave the afternoon shift to new, young and voracious attorneys, or just to whoever prefers working afternoons to working mornings. But that is just the problem. The establishment is afraid that those young attorneys will seize the opportunity and take some work and profits away from them.

Ten new courthouses are already being built according to the new model, with each court equiped with two bureaus for two judges. The High Court of Justice should, as soon as possible, reject petitions against the second shift so that we will shortly be able to enjoy a more efficient judicial system.