In the hit British comedy TV show Blackadder, the blustering, slightly unhinged Captain Melchett is distraught at the accidental shooting of his beloved pigeon, in the trenches, during the First World War. A trial consequently ensues, during which Captain Melchett is both the claimant and judge.
At one point, while acting as judge, he says “Before we proceed to the formality of sentencing the deceased, I mean the defendant…”
The joke is obvious and stems from the principle of natural justice, first discussed by Lord Hewart: nemo iudex in causa sua: nobody should judge a case in which they have a stake.
And that is why the executive must be totally absent from the judicial process. A politician is always after something: a vote to win, a law to pass, a cause to champion. And that’s all peachy because that is what a politician does. But, when a politician steps into the judicial chamber, then the law is besmirched and sullied to such an extent that it is rendered redundant. There is something tawdry about it. No matter how much you polish, it’s still tarnished.
Perhaps I am parroting a peculiarly English trope: our judges have not a whiff of political partisanship. I appreciate that it is different in the United States of America and in Israel, but a line in a recent TOI article caught my attention:
“…the Jewish Home Party sees an opportunity to change the direction of the court, which the right has long complained was too liberal in its rulings.”
You can almost hear the bleating: if only the judges were suitably malleable that they forgot judicial independence and integrity. If only they weren’t quite so liberal. If only they were more like us.
Arguments have been made that the justices of the Supreme Court are too elite, aloof and liberal to reflect the populace. They are also, according to some quarters, too powerful. They intervene too much. They overreach. If only the Jewish Home Party could appoint judges to think like Minister Shaked. And that is what she is proposing. You don’t like the team? Change the rules. Choose your own friends instead.
Lest we forget, it is not the place of the Knesset to wag the tail of the judicial dog. One of the tired monikers in Israel’s armoury is that the country is the lone beacon of democracy in the Middle East. A benchmark of a democracy is freedom of criticism, as David Ben-Gurion once presciently noted.
Maybe, if some MKs weren’t too busy boycotting and bullying, playing politics and scheming as opposed to governing responsibly, perhaps the body politic would be a happier bunch.
Then again, I can’t talk. Over half my lot voted to leave Europe, so, maybe I should try and find some judges to rule that the vote was illegal. Good call Ayelet. Great idea.