Katzrin / The Judge Is on Leave - You'll Have to Drive 40 Minutes

The magistrate's court in Katzrin, the largest town in the Golan Heights, will close for a year - its only judge is taking a leave of absence. Residents who need to go to court have been told they will have to travel to Kiryat Shmona, the Galilee panhandle community 40 minutes' drive away.

Bus service between the two towns runs once a day, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman noted in response to a question from the floor by Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee chair MK David Rotem. Rotem raised the issue after having received complaints from Katzrin residents and its local council.

"Judge Bracha Samson will be taking a year-long unpaid sabbatical, during which she will finish writing all the outstanding verdicts and after which she will take early retirement," the justice minister told Knesset members.

Neeman said that in light of the situation, all cases from Katzrin and the nearby Druze village of Mas'adeh will be heard on time, but in Kiryat Shmona.

He said he was sorry to make Katzrin residents travel all that way to appear in court, but it was the best that could be done under the circumstances "to minimize damage to the public, since the only judge in Kiryat Shmona cannot move about."

Neeman said he regretted that he could not allocate another judge as long as the current judge does not retire, noting the recent court system strike and the fact that the Finance Ministry seeks to reduce the number of judgeships.

"I have a serious problem here. Katzrin is close to my heart, and we will try to find a solution, but for that I need a position," he said.

Rotem said the courts system needed an immediate infusion of about NIS 1.5 billion, and that it was "inconceivable" for a technical problem to impair a citizen's basic right to proper legal proceedings.