Guy Lurie

Under Levin, justice is delayed, and delayed, and delayed

The public is being held hostage by a minister who is shirking his legal duty to convene the Judicial Selection Committee
Justice Minister Yariv Levin speaks during a constitution committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, on January 11, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Justice Minister Yariv Levin speaks during a constitution committee meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem, on January 11, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Last week, the Knesset elected MK Yitzhak Kroizer as its representative in the Judicial Selection Committee, this time representing the coalition alongside MK Karine Elharrar, who had already been chosen a month ago on behalf of the opposition. The Committee is responsible for selecting judges to fill the vacancies that have accumulated over many months of inactivity. The question is whether the Judicial Selection Committee will be convened.

The answer? Highly unlikely. Various sources have reported that Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the committee chairman, has decided not to convene the committee until the Knesset changes its composition. From the justice minister’s perspective, refraining from convening the committee for several months is a reasonable option. But what of the vacancies in the magistrate and district courts? As far as the minister is concerned, this is a non-issue. They can simply wait.

While the minister sticks to his guns, the public is left to deal with the consequences. A recent example underpins this point: in Beersheba’s magistrate’s court, an individual faced drug-related charges and was sent to detention until the completion of the legal proceedings against him. The defendant requested an early trial date, but the court scheduled hearings for October-November, the earliest available dates due to the court’s heavy caseload. Throughout this period, the defendant will remain in custody. Subsequently, the defendant petitioned the Supreme Court to review the delay in his proceedings. However, the Supreme Court rejected the petition, clarifying that the matter falls under the Magistrate’s Court’s jurisdiction, with which the Supreme Court does not interfere. Nevertheless, Justice Yitzhak Amit acknowledged the overwhelming caseload with which Israeli courts are coping, where the number of civil cases per resident is twice the European average, and the number of professional judges per resident amounts to one-third of the European average.

But the minister of justice remains unmoved. From the minister’s perspective, this is not his problem but a matter for the public and the judges themselves. As the Supreme Court judges emphasized in the aforementioned case, even with a heavy workload, the Magistrate’s Court is responsible for dealing with its caseload efficiently and for finding solutions, including in this defendant’s case.

The minister of justice is taking advantage of these circumstances, shirking his responsibility, hiding behind the judges’ bench. But the truth is that the responsibility also lies with him. This is precisely why the law stipulates that the minister of justice chairs the Judicial Selection Committee. Since the establishment of the state, the Minister of Justice has been entrusted with the responsibility over numerous administrative matters of the courts, including determining the number of judges in the Magistrates and District Courts. The law explicitly states that “upon identifying the need to appoint a judge, the minister of justice shall notify the records and convene the Judicial Selection Committee.” 

The law is clear. The minister is obligated to convene the committee when judicial vacancies appear. By evading this responsibility, he is failing in his duty. Clearly, he is doing so to increase the pressure on the judiciary. But in doing so, he is holding the public, which depends on the courts, judges, and court staff, hostage in his Machiavellian scheme.

This behavior is unacceptable and unreasonable. Perhaps this is why the minister seeks to revoke the Supreme Court’s authority to review the unreasonableness of this maneuver. The so-called “softening” proposed in the legislation that would revoke the standard of reasonableness as it applies to the government and its ministers explicitly aims to prevent the Supreme Court from intervening in cases where ministers “abstain from exercising authority.” The government’s move to revoke the standard of reasonableness is revealed here, in its true shady form: its sole purpose is to maintain authority and make decisions based on dubious considerations or abstain from exercising power altogether if doing so does not align with their agenda. This approach is not only unreasonable, but also highly irresponsible.

About the Author
Dr. Guy Lurie is a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute.
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