Judges’ Independence Is ‘Cornerstone of Democracy,’ Says Israel's Supreme Court Head

Justice speaks in Nuremberg days after Netanyahu reportedly seeks legislation to put Knesset beyond judicial oversight

Revital Hovel
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Supreme Court President Esther Hayut in Haifa, January 2019.
Supreme Court President Esther Hayut in Haifa, January 2019.Credit: Eran Gilwerg
Revital Hovel

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut called the principle of the independence of the country’s judges “one of the cornerstones of any democratic regime” in a speech on Tuesday.

Hayut spoke of the importance of judicial independence on both an institutional and personal level during an appearance at a conference in the German city of Nuremberg of the Israeli-German Lawyers Association. She added that it was important “that the individual retain an address to turn to in order to defend his rights.”

In a reference to the Nazi regime’s passage in 1935 of the Nuremburg laws, which stripped German Jews of their civil rights, Hayut said that in Nuremberg, “law and justice deteriorated into one of the most difficult periods in human history” in a country that had passed what she called “one of the most advanced constitutions for the protection of human rights and liberties, the Weimar constitution.” That, she said, demonstrates that “even existing institutions can be stripped of their power and essential importance.” The Weimar Republic was supplanted by the Nazi regime in 1933.

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This week, Haaretz reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking passage of legislation that would curb the authority that Israel’s High Court of Justice has to exert judicial oversight over legislation and the administrative decisions of the cabinet, cabinet ministers and the Knesset.

As reported, the proposed limitations might render the decisions of the High Court of Justice nothing more than recommendations, and could eliminate the standard of reasonableness that the court applies to administrative decisions. Concerns have been expressed that the Knesset will also expand its power to override the court’s decisions, putting the Knesset beyond judicial oversight.

Netanyahu countered that media reports on the legislation that he is seeking are inaccurate. The legislation, he said, is designed to limit the power of the High Court of Justice and, as he sees it, restore the proper balance among branches of government.