Judiciary's Ombudsman Blasts 'Foot-dragging' by Judges

The Israeli judicial system is suffering from a backlog of cases that stems from foot-dragging by judges, former state comptroller Eliezer Goldberg said yesterday.

"Justice delayed is justice denied," said Goldberg, who published a report yesterday in his capacity as ombudsman of the Israeli judiciary.

According to the study, Goldberg's office fielded 1,003 complaints last year compared with 1,205 in 2008. Of the complaints last year, 131 were found to be justified. Half the grievances dealt with delays in the legal process.

Goldberg told reporters in Jerusalem yesterday that to ease the burden of judges, lawyers should be appointed to handle small-claims cases. In addition, some minor cases can be referred for mediation or an out-of-court settlement.

Goldberg said the state must carefully weigh the ramifications of a legal system that does not adequately serve its citizens.

"This is one of the reasons that public confidence in the legal system is declining," Goldberg said. "The judges are not lazy. They are constantly under the strain of work, but there are instances in which delays are unjustifiable," he added.

"I am not ready to accept the claim that there is a heavy workload when there are cases that need to be decided on the spot, like a request for an injunction."

The only complaint against the Supreme Court that Goldberg found to be justified was a case in which Justice Ayala Procaccia delayed a ruling. In October 2006, the Supreme Court was asked to hear an appeal on a decision by the Haifa District Court. Yet it took three years for Procaccia to come through with a ruling.

In response to Goldberg's assertion, Procaccia wrote that the reason for the delay was the "unreasonable" caseload that awaits the justices.

"This workload does not enable us, in any way, to abide by a reasonable schedule for every case we receive," Procaccia wrote. She added that in the cited case the delayed ruling did not have a direct adverse effect on the petitioner.

Goldberg did not accept Procaccia's reasoning. While he expressed understanding for the court's busy workload, he said it was understandable that some cases would suffer significant delays. "The question in this case is where 'significant' ends," Goldberg wrote.