Government’s judicial overhaul will give it full control of judge selection – report
Channel 12 says Levin seeks to expand Judicial Selection Committee to 11 members, with 7 coalition appointees; minister meets with chief justice, promises her voice will be heard
Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s major overhaul of Israel’s judicial and legal system will see the government take complete control over the selection of new judges and end the selection panel’s independence, Channel 12 reported Sunday evening.
The unconfirmed TV report, which did not cite sources, said the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee will change drastically under Levin’s plan, expected to be outlined in bills by the end of the month.
Instead of the current nine members, the committee under Levin’s plan will be increased to 11: seven from the coalition (three ministers, two MKs and two public representatives appointed by the justice minister), as well as one opposition MK and three judges.
The two members of the Israel Bar Association who are currently part of the committee will be removed, the report said.
With the committee requiring seven votes to approve new judges, the changes will effectively give the coalition complete control over the selection process. Currently, the three judges on the panel essentially hold a veto as at least one of their votes is required to approve a candidate. The new arrangement will see them deprived of that power.
The report also said that according to the minister’s plan to severely limit the High Court of Justice’s oversight of parliament, the court will only be able to strike down laws passed by the Knesset with the support of 12 of its 15 justices.
Furthermore, the Knesset will be able to override such a decision with the support of only 61 lawmakers in the 120-member Knesset, effectively giving it automatic override power. Such an override would be prevented only if the High Court decision were made unanimously.
Earlier Sunday, Levin and Supreme Court President Esther Hayut met for the first time since Levin announced his plans for the wide-ranging and highly controversial reforms.
According to a Ynet report, the two mainly discussed managerial issues like personnel and budget. More burning items on the agenda, including pending High Court appeals regarding Shas leader Aryeh Deri’s appointment as a minister, were not brought up, the report said.
Levin did, however, promise Hayut that her position would be heard before any judicial-related legislation, the report added.
Levin did not consult with Hayut before announcing his reforms, which, if enacted, would arguably amount to the most drastic changes ever to Israel’s system of government.
Levin, a close ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, presented a four-point “first stage” overhaul that would drastically limit the authority of the High Court of Justice to block legislation and government decisions deemed discriminatory and/or undemocratic, abolish “reasonableness” as a test by which justices can weigh legality, give the government control over judicial selection, and eliminate ministry legal advisers appointed by the attorney general.
The justice minister claimed that judicial activism had ruined public trust in the legal system and made it impossible for governments to rule effectively.
Others have disagreed, claiming that Levin’s plans would destroy the country’s constitutional structure and threaten Israel’s democratic character and its basic judicial principles.
An open letter published Sunday by eight deans of law schools in Israeli universities and colleges across the country said that “The extreme change in the constitutional structure that the new government wants to implement would remove important checks and balances on the government and Knesset, which are demanded and in place for every democratic country acting in accordance with the principle of separation of powers.”
Meanwhile, the Lawyers Take Action NGO, which represents private law firms across the country, announced an hour-long strike set for 1 p.m. Thursday in protest of Levin’s planned reforms.
The strike will include thousands of lawyers who will walk out of courts across the country for one hour, protesting “the destruction of the judiciary and Israeli democracy,” the group said. The main protest event will take place outside the Tel Aviv District Court.
Former chief justice Aharon Barak, Israel’s most renowned legal figure, warned Saturday that Levin’s reforms essentially give all power to the prime minister, 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.
He called Levin’s proposals “a string of poison pills” that, if put around Israel’s neck, would mark “the beginning of the end of the Third House” — the third period of Jewish national sovereignty, after the ancient First and Second Temple eras.
The outgoing head of the Israel Bar Association Avi Himi said Levin’s reforms were “delusional” and “dangerous” and would “turn Israel into a dictatorship.”
And Hayut herself warned last month against interfering with the independence of Israel’s judiciary, saying that, without freedom, judges cannot fulfill their mission to the public.
Netanyahu pushed back against the criticism on Sunday, saying that the overhaul would strengthen democracy rather than hasten its end, and that his government was carrying out the will of the people.
“The claim that this reform is the end of democracy is baseless,” said Netanyahu at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting, underlining his firm support for the proposals.
Tobias Siegal and Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.