Israel's Court President Orders Irregular Meeting of Judicial Appointments Panel

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Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, October 2020.
Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, October 2020. Credit: Oren Ben Hakun

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut has ordered the convening of subcommittees of the Judicial Appointments Committee even though the panel usually does not convene when a caretaker government is in office.

The courts administration said that the move was approved by Benny Gantz, the leader of the Kahol Lavan party, who has served as justice minister since Avi Nissenkorn resigned as of January 1. Gantz denies giving his approval or of dealing with the issue in any way, however.

Last month, while he was still justice minister, Nissenkorn scheduled the next meeting of the Judicial Appointments Committee for January 31, but the Knesset dissolved sveral days later, making the current government a caretaker one. Based on rulings by the High Court of Justice and directives from the attorney general, dissolution of the Knesset suspends the operation of the committee as one of the limitations on the powers of a caretaker government.

In 2008, a day after the resignation of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, the Judicial Appointments Committee did convene for a meeting that had been scheduled in advance. But then-Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch issued instructions, with the support of the other Supreme Court justices on the panel, that no judicial appointments would actually be made during the term of the caretaker government.

In a ruling on the matter at the time, the High Court of Justice acknowledged that “the appointment of new judges is important and necessary to the proper operation of the [judicial] system, but that doesn’t mean that … we will necessarily appoint new judges on a permanent basis at this time.” Judicial appointments should only be made if it is shown that there is “a truly essential need that if not addressed would create a vacuum that could harm an important public interest,” the High Court ruled.

Decision-making regarding the governance of the Judicial Appointments Committee is in the hands of the justice minister. However, it was the judges’ division of the courts administration that informed the committee members that Hayut had ordered the convening of the committee as initially scheduled by Nissenkorn for January 31, and that Gantz had approved it. The committee members were also asked to confirm their attendance at subcommittee meetings where candidates for judgeships would be interviewed in advance of the January 31 meeting.

For his part, however, Gantz told Haaretz that he was never consulted on the matter. The legal adviser to the Justice Ministry, Leah Rakover, who is responsible for providing the justice minister with legal advice on the operations of the committee, refused to respond when asked whether she had issued a legal opinion on the issue.

The courts administration issued a statement confirming that it was Nissenkorn who had scheduled the meeting for January 31 before the Knesset was dissolved and that the decision regarding whether to hold it is up to Benny Gantz as the current justice minister. “The judges’ division of the courts administration is preparing for the possibility that the meeting will be held then, if the minister decides to hold it,” the statement said.

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