Government backs bill to siphon off most of Israel Bar Association’s powers

Licensing, bar exams and sanctioning lawyers are among powers to be transferred to a new Lawyers Council; current text would also strip IBA of seats on judge-selecting panel

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Likud MK Hanoch Milwidsky speaks during a Knesset Finance Committee hearing, February 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK Hanoch Milwidsky speaks during a Knesset Finance Committee hearing, February 22, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A ministerial panel decided on Monday to back a bill that would siphon off power from the Israel Bar Association and transfer it to a new, government-headed authority.

Just days after the country’s lawyers elected Amit Becher — who has been bitterly critical of the coalition’s judicial overhaul push — as head of the bar association, the Ministerial Committee for Legislation voted to give government support to a bill that will strip away the bar’s licensing authority and its representation on the committee that selects judges.

Likud MK Hanoch Milwidsky, the bill’s sponsor, said his goal is to transform the bar association from “an archaic guild” into a “voluntary” professional organization.

Its powers to grant licenses, administer the bar exam and sanction lawyers for misconduct would be transferred to a to-be-created Lawyers Council, which would be chaired by a district court judge, appointed by the justice minister.

The bill also includes a clause that would strip the IBA of its seats on the Judicial Selection Committee — the body that appoints judges, and is at the heart of the government’s plans to remake the judiciary.

Milwidsky has said that he plans in the future to remove the section of the bill touching on the IBA’s seats on the panel, once the government moves ahead with its own separate proposal to revamp the committee.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) with Justice Minister Yariv Levin at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 7, 2023. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Several months ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu froze legislation that would have granted the government broad control over the body that chooses Supreme Court justices and other judges. But as the government is now moving ahead with the overhaul following the collapse of talks, Netanyahu is said to be planning a fresh bill in the Knesset’s winter session later this year.

The bar association’s two seats on the panel have drawn ire from the coalition, with many in its hard-right base accusing the bar of pushing liberal candidates for bench positions. Under the tenure of former bar association head Efi Nave, bar representatives collaborated with then-justice minister Ayelet Shaked to tap right-wing judges.

The nine-member committee comprises two members of the bar, three of the judiciary, and three politicians plus the justice minister.

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