Tel Aviv magistrate's court - Moti Kimche
Stacks of files at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court. Photo by Moti Kimche
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Social welfare and human rights organizations have declared war on proposed legislation that would allow the Courts Administration to transfer cases between the country's various court systems. According to the groups, the law being promoted by the administration would place geographic and financial obstacles in the way of the country's weaker populations and undermine their access to the legal system.

The bill will be discussed today by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee ahead of its second and third readings.

For its part, the Courts Administration argues that the proposed law would relieve the tremendous case load in certain courts, shorten the waiting period for deliberations and streamline the operations of the legal system.

Administration data show that more than 350,000 cases were opened in the nation's courts in the first half of the year alone.

Under the bill, the director of the courts would be able to transfer civil and traffic cases that have yet to be deliberated to another court either in the same jurisdiction or in one that is no further than 60 kilometers away from the court in which the case was originally submitted.

In their appeal to the Knesset committee, organizations such as the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Yedid - The Association for Community Empowerment, and Halev - The Movement for the War on Poverty in Israel, and Community Advocacy claim that if enacted, such a law would significantly affect the country's weaker strata, whose free access to the legal system will be undermined. The groups are calling on lawmakers to amend the bill such that it guarantees the rights of all those who must use the courts.

The social welfare bodies add that access to the legal system is a constitutional right that the High Court of Justice has recognized as "superior to a basic right." According to the High Court, these groups argue, preservation of the right to legal recourse is an essential condition for upholding the remaining basic rights.

"If an individual is unable to turn to the courts in an effective and free manner, either as a plaintiff or defendant, he will not able able to realize the rights to which he is entitled, and these rights, therefore, will have no significance for him," the social welfare groups wrote in their appeal to the Knesset committee.

"The court system's need to balance the load at the various courts is understandable," added ACRI attorney Debbie Gild-Hayo. "But the solution to this problem should not come at the expense of the citizens' right to conduct their legal affairs in an accessible and convenient location.

"The ones who will be particularly harmed by this are precisely those people for whom the time and travel costs involved in going to a court far away will deter them from pursuing legal action," Gild-Hayo said.

The social welfare organizations advise amending the bill in question such that cases could be transferred to a different court that is no further than 15 kilometers from the original court that they dealt with. The groups also demand that the law should require both sides to agree to such a transfer, and also provide an option to appeal the transfer.

Courts Administration officials claim that transferring cases between districts in a small country like Israel would facilitate, for example, lightening the load on the magistrate's courts in the central district. For example, the officials say, cases could be transferred from courts in that district to alterative courts that are relatively close by in the Tel Aviv, Haifa or southern districts.