A Fitting Repeal

The Supreme Court's revocation of a law that prohibited suspects from being present at hearings on extending their remand reinforces the individual's fundamental right to due process. A nine-judge panel, divided on many issues of principle, was able to unite around the view that conducting a court hearing without the suspect present represents a grave, disproportionate blow to individual liberty and human dignity - even when the charges are security-related.

Supreme Court Vice President Eliezer Rivlin was correct in his outright rejection of the state prosecutor's baseless claim that, given the many limitations on the rights of security detainees to defend themselves, their absence during remand hearings is "not largely" significant.

The court, however, ruled that judicial review must be upheld even in security cases, and that the suspect's presence in court has "special importance." Preventing the detainee from appearing in court undermines what Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch describes as a "fundamental element" of the right to due process enshrined in the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Freedom.

The political right - led by Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and David Rotem, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee - has stridently condemned the ruling, blaming the court for playing down security considerations. Other lawmakers demanded that the High Court be limited in its capacity to overturn laws.

The ruling has not minimized security concerns or undercut the fight against terrorism. Nonetheless, Justice Edna Arbel rightly stated what should have been self-evident - that even in light of Israel's situation, the state must fight for its security "within the limits delineated by law," and that "the end does not justify the means." Justice Elyakim Rubinstein quoted the late legal scholar Ariel Rosen Zvi in noting that "there are no circumstances in which security threats nullify law."

The way Israel combats terrorism must be in line with former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak's observation-- that democracies often have to fight their battles "with one hand tied behind their backs." In this outlook lies the secret of a democratic state's strength, a fact lawmakers must not ignore.