ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Government intends to pass sweeping judicial overhaul by end of March

Legislation to enact four components of coalition’s legal reforms to be submitted to government by end of January, with passage of bills sought by end of Knesset winter session

Jeremy Sharon is The Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter

Justice Minister Yariv Levin holds a press conference announcing his judicial overhaul agenda in the Knesset, January 4, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Justice Minister Yariv Levin holds a press conference announcing his judicial overhaul agenda in the Knesset, January 4, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The new government intends to pass its sweeping legislative agenda for an overhaul of Israel’s legal and judicial system by the end of March.

According to an official in the office of MK Simcha Rothman, chair of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, the different pieces of legislation making up the four components of the planned major reform are currently being drawn up and will be presented to the government’s Ministerial Committee for Legislation in the coming weeks.

Once there is general agreement among the different coalition parties, the legislation will be submitted to the Knesset as government bills, with the goal being to pass all four reforms by the end of the Knesset winter session which will end shortly before the Passover holiday that starts April 5.

The Likud’s agreements with all coalition parties, apart from Noam, include clauses requiring the passage of a new Basic Law: Legislation that will include a High Court override mechanism. The deals all emphasize that the legislation overhauling the judicial system will be given utmost priority.

The package of legislation will be debated and prepared in the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.

Unveiled by Justice Minister Yariv Levin on January 4, just six days after the hard-right coalition took office, the overhaul provides for severely restricting the High Court’s capacity to strike down laws and government decisions; passing an “override clause” enabling the Knesset to re-legislate such laws; giving the government control over the selection of judges; preventing the court from using a test of “reasonableness” against which to judge legislation and government decisions; and allowing ministers to appoint their own legal advisers, instead of getting counsel from advisers operating under the aegis of the Justice Ministry.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin (L), Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (2nd L), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Tzahi Braverman (R) at the cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, January 8, 2023 (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Should the High Court of Justice annul the appointment of Shas leader Aryeh Deri as interior and health minister in a case currently pending before the court, legislation providing for an override mechanism of the High Court will be expedited even faster in order to countermand the court’s decision and reinstate Deri to his cabinet portfolios.

The proposed reforms have faced withering criticism from former Supreme Court judges, former attorneys general, legal scholars and other jurists.

In interviews broadcast Saturday night, former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak, who greatly expanded the court’s judicial review of the legislature in the 1990s, said the reforms would lead to a “tyranny of the majority.” They essentially give all power to the prime minister, he said, leave citizens with no defense against the removal of any and all of their rights, and would mark the beginning of the end of the modern State of Israel.

Barak said the civil rights of “Jew, Arab, ultra-Orthodox, not ultra-Orthodox — are in grave danger,” and that the proposed reforms constituted “a chain with which to strangle Israeli democracy.”

Levin rejected Barak’s comments, asserting that his proposals were backed by “vast parts of the public” who elected the new government.

“I’m not changing all the rules of the democratic game. I’m restoring democracy,” he claimed.

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