A judicial code of conduct is now being formulated for the first time to govern judges' behavior in the courtroom and their management of hearings, according to an internal document Haaretz has obtained.
The document contains nine dos and don'ts that judges will have to abide by. It will reportedly soon be approved by a committee comprising representatives of the judges, the Courts Administration and the Israel Bar Association. The committee is chaired by retired Supreme Court justice and former judicial ombudsman Tova Strasberg-Cohen.
Judges are already subject to a code of ethics, but those rules make little reference to the management of actual hearings - a gap the new code is meant to fill.
The document states that judges may not raise their voices or use insulting expressions during trials, nor may they criticize, orally or in writing, the professional conduct of lawyers appearing before them. If they do criticize lawyers, it must be in a pertinent way. Judges must also consider the sensitivities of both the parties to the case and their lawyers with regard to religion, personal status or physical limitations.
Judges must also be considerate of the value of the litigants', lawyers' and witnesses' time. They should summon the parties for a specific time, begin the trial on time and make sure it ends at a predetermined hour.
Another rule calls for judges to allow lawyers to freely present their arguments within the time allotted for that purpose, and not to interrupt them with matters not relevant to the conduct of the hearing. Such interruptions, if they do take place, must be made respectfully.
Judges must also try to avoid canceling hearings without sufficient advance notice to all parties.
Among the members of Strasberg-Cohen's committee are Nazareth District Court President David Cheshin, Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court President Ziva Herman-Hadassi and Deputy President of the National Labor Court Nili Arad.
In July, Haaretz published confidential minutes of the committee's proceedings, in which Strasberg-Cohen harshly criticized some of her former colleagues. Among other things, she said judges acted like they were "God's agents on earth."
She also said that judges' tardiness showed a lack of respect for lawyers that affected the culture of debate in the courtroom. In some cases, judges who entered the courtroom as much as an hour late did not even see fit to apologize, even if they had been occupied by another case, she said.
Strasberg-Cohen also said at the time that while she had not taken a statistical survey, she believed such behavior was typical of "more than a few" judges.
The Courts Administration said the new code of conduct will complement the code of ethics, because the latter does not focus on judges' behavior in court. It also said the new rules will strengthen public faith in the judicial system.
But a Tel Aviv District Court judge told Haaretz yesterday that there was concern the new rules would be used against the judges. She said the most infuriating rule was the one requiring a judge to start and end hearings at appointed times. Such a demand was "divorced from reality" given the courts' overloaded dockets, which force judges to hear 10 cases a day, she said.
"Will a hearing set for 8:30 A.M. that begins at 10 because they were trying to crowd as many hearings into the day as possible now be cause for a complaint to the judicial ombudsman?" the judge demanded.
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