Leading Judge Slams Plan for Ethics Code

Varda Alshech says judges cannot be bound by rules of conduct, but lawyers can.

Days before elections for the post of chairman of the organization representing judges, the incumbent chair, Judge Varda Alshech, assailed the Code of Conduct for Judges in the Courtroom, which was prepared by the Courts Administration. Alshech said no such code should be binding on judges. On the other hand, Alshech believes the code of conduct for attorneys in a courtroom should be stricter.

Alshech relayed her comments to the organization on the two codes of conduct in courtrooms which were presented to the Strasbourg-Cohen Committee. The committee, comprised of judges and lawyers, is headed by retired justice Tovah Strasbourg-Cohen.

Judge Varda Alshech
Justice Ministry website

The committee was set up by the Courts Administration and the Israel Bar Association earlier this year to help promote a more civilized culture of courtroom deliberations.

In October, Haaretz published a draft of the document, which had been approved by Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch and the director of the courts, Judge Moshe Gal.

The document was given to the Strasbourg-Cohen Committee for deliberation, as was the Code of Conduct for Attorneys, which was approved by the Israel Bar Association in March.

The Code of Conduct for Judges is meant to supplement the existing ethical code for judges, which is more general in nature. It requires that judges avoid raising their voices or making insulting remarks. Moreover, according to the code, a judge must not address the defendants or plaintiffs directly, only through their lawyers, and that judge must also take into account the time and schedule of the lawyers, calling witnesses to appear on schedule, beginning deliberations on time and ensuring they end on time.

"I think that the rules of ethics are entirely sufficient," Judge Alshech wrote to the members of the Strasbourg-Cohen Committee. "What was written in the rules [of conduct] for the judges is simply unnecessary, and there is nearly nothing worth including in the rules, and if there is something, it can be included in the ethics rules and thus bring the matter to a close."

On the rules which call on steadfastly sticking with the trial's schedule, Alshech writes: "How could one ensure that the predetermined end of a trial is kept? Since when is this possible to do that [so] we are now to include it in rules?"

Regarding the rule that requires lawyers to respect each other and hear each other's arguments freely, Alshech says: "Is this necessary in the rules? After all, if they disrupt each other, the judge interferes, because it also disrupts him!"

As for judges not voicing professional criticism of lawyers, Alshech says: "What if the lawyer is negligent in the handling of the case and did not prepare, study the case, and as a result his client suffered - this cannot be noted? This is the duty of a judge!!!"

Alshech's rival in the race for the chair of the organization representing judges, Jerusalem District Court Judge Yosef Shapira, believes that the conclusions of the Strasbourg-Cohen committee on the proposed documents should be evaluated only once they are completed.