Beinisch Warns of More Political Attacks on Supreme Court in Farewell Speech

Beinisch, who retires at month's end, conducts press conference with the press at the Supreme Court in JerusalemMonday.

Retiring Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch said on Monday that politicians will keep trying to weaken the supreme court, but that "the entire system - the public and the [Supreme] Court - will stand against those attempts."

Beinisch retires at the end of the month and conducted a press conference with the press at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on Monday. She has served for 15 years at the High Court of Justice, including the last five and a half as Supreme Court president.

Beinisch - Flash 90 - 07022012
Flash 90

Her presidency was characterized mostly by her conflict with former minister Daniel Friedman, when the Supreme Court was under attack from the justice minister himself. Beinisch managed to intercept most of Friedman's initiatives, such as limiting the public's right to petition the High Court of Justice, limiting the areas the court could adjudicate and limiting judicial activism. On Monday, Beinisch refrained from making controversial remarks, but only last December she gave a dramatic speech at a legal conference in which she warned of an open campaign of incitement against the Supreme Court and its judges.

She also refused to criticize justice minister Yaakov Neeman on Monday  when asked if she expected him to defend the judicial system in general and the courts in particular - in light of the various legislative initiatives in the Knesset. "I am not the judge of the justice minister," she said. "I did not expect him to come out against the legislation." Beinisch called the relations between the two "correct."

She also refrained from attacking Friedman on Monday, and noted that she held regular work meetings with the justice ministers. But when asked if she missed Friedman, she said no.

"No Supreme Court president is subordinate to any minister. The legal system is very independent in its nature, it is not independent administratively," she said. "With every one of the ministers there were business-like discussions."

Beinisch denied that the public has lost faith in the legal system, despite clear statistics showing such a drop over the past decade, especially among the settlers and ultra-Orthodox. Alongside the statistics, there has been a rise in petitions to all the courts at all levels, which is inconsistent with a drop in public faith in the courts, she argued.

Those who attack the court also petition the court when they need to, said Beinisch. She also blamed part of the change in the public's views to "a directed campaign to damage the court, a campaign of delegitimization."

For the first time Beinisch spoke of the incident when an angry defendant threw a shoe at her, hitting her in the face during a court session. "The man suffers from serious psychological problems," she said on Monday. "There are threats, incitement, those who are disappointed ... It worried me that the distance between a justice on the Supreme Court and the public is much greater than between the public and a judge in the Family Court. There he could have fractured the judge's skull," she said, adding, "I do not feel threatened."

The president of the Supreme Court should chair the Judicial Appointments Committee and not the justice minister, said Beinisch. But this was not a high priority for her, she said.

Regarding the influence of politicians on the selection of judges, she noted: "We are aware that the [Supreme] Court is an influential institution and there are those who do not like it. There is a desire to influence the court and its composition, but it is not a legitimate desire. The Judicial Appointments Committee is composed of professional and political representatives. When you sit on a selection committee with a political representation, there is an attempt to influence," she said. "There is now a professional and balanced composition. The selection of judges will be more intelligent than in the past," she continued.

"We managed to get across the idea that not every case requires a dissertation so that the judge can advance," Beinisch added. Every judge in the system receives training in writing opinions, she said, speaking of the orders to judges to write their judgments more quickly.

"I did not want to be involved in the question of who will be the next [Supreme Court] president," she said, in response to a question about why she did not retire a few weeks earlier and make superfluous the new legislation that will allow Justice Asher Grunis to be appointed president. "If I had retired, it would have been a statement. Seniority is my preferred solution. I did not want to intervene between two friends, I am not parceling out an inheritance," she said.