The suicide of Judge Maurice Benatar this week drew public attention to the courts' onerous workload. That is true even though it would be wrong to reach glib conclusions about Benatar's decision to end his life. The circumstances behind a suicide are always complicated, and that is no less true for senior officials.
Former minister Avraham Ofer, banker Yaakov Levinson, military secretary Nehemia Argov, chief of staff Motta Gur, naval commander Avraham Barkai - each man had his own story. They ranged from feelings of humiliation and anxiety in the face of criminal investigations through feelings of guilt about involvement in an accident to the physical and mental agonies of terminal illness.
But having stated this caveat, we cannot ignore the burden of responsibility laid on a conscientious judge, who is torn between his duty to do justice with the litigants appearing before him and the system's expectation that he work faster, increase his output and produce ever more verdicts. Ultimately, the law decided Benatar's fate, literally. And Judge Benatar's personal disaster comes on top of the miscarriages of justice suffered by many who have been waiting for years for a more efficient legal system.
Israel has in recent years become a society that fights its battles in court, copying the American model in this as in so many other things. The tens of thousands of lawyers churned out by educational institutions find work in the market for litigation. And when everything is decided in court, the courts' pipelines clog rapidly.
The law enforcement system labors under a permanent personnel shortage. There are not enough policemen, prosecutors or judges. The heads of the justice system are like sorcerers who cannot restrain their apprentices and therefore drown in a man-made flood.
There are no quick or cheap solutions for this. But one thing Israel should do is set up an appellate court that would be inferior to the Supreme Court but superior to the district and magistrate's courts. Such a court would at least reduce the intolerable workload currently crippling the Supreme Court.
Efforts to increase efficiency by expanding the system horizontally, including by setting up a Central District Court in addition to the Tel Aviv District Court, have been successful. But it would also be advisable to consider shortening the courts' summer recess, and to conduct trials continuously until they are finished, insofar as is possible.
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