Hours after the coalition’s preferred candidate to lead the Israel Bar Association acknowledged defeat in the vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party on Wednesday prepared to advance a bill to strip the IBA of much of its authority.
Results from the organization’s leadership election handed a win to Amit Becher, the candidate standing on an anti-overhaul platform. The IBA currently has two seats on the country’s Judicial Selection Committee, whose makeup is currently in fierce contention as the government attempts to remake the nation’s judicial system to hand far more power to the executive branch.
Sponsored by Likud MK Hanoch Milwidsky, the bill would take away the Bar Association’s authority to license lawyers, and possibly its two seats on the nine-member committee entrusted with picking Israel’s judges.
The 70-odd sections of the bill would severely curtail the bar association’s powers, and transfer some of its most significant authorities to newly created offices.
Proposed under the bill, a to-be-formed Lawyers Council would take over licensing, verification of fitness to practice law, administering the bar exam and sanctioning lawyers for misconduct.
The Lawyers Council, a public body, would be chaired by a former District Court judge, directly appointed by the justice minister.
Additional members, all serving a four-year term, would include four non-government lawyers chosen by the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, an active district court judge chosen by the Supreme Court president, three government lawyers chosen by the justice minister, two finance ministry representatives and a legal academic.
In light of then-ongoing efforts to reach political consensus on structural changes, last month Milwidsky announced he intended to remove the clause relating to the Judicial Selection Committee from the bill.
However, the provision is still written in the legislation and the lawmaker can easily rescind his letter of intent.
The bill is on the schedule for consideration at Sunday’s upcoming Ministerial Committee for Legislation, and can come to the Knesset floor as early as next Wednesday if approved by the panel.
The decision to reintroduce the bill, after it was pulled from the panel’s consideration at the end of last month, came as the IBA completed its tally in Tuesday’s leadership vote.
Winner Becher is a vocal opponent of the coalition’s broader judicial overhaul plan, and many senior coalition members openly lobbied for rival Efi Nave.
A former IBA chief and convicted criminal, Nave was favored by some as he had in the past cooperated with the political right to elect more right-leaning judges.
With Becher atop the powerful lawyers’ association, the organization is expected to tap two Judicial Selection Committee representatives who would not align with coalition plans.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin has openly railed against the Judicial Selection Committee, saying its current makeup — which forces politicians and professional representatives to come to a consensus in order to put judges on the bench — is “invalid” for a democracy.
In March, Netanyahu froze a Levin-supported bill to remake the committee and deliver key appointments into direct coalition control. The bill was left primed for its final Knesset floor votes, but Netanyahu is now said to prefer pulling the bill and introducing a new plan for the legislation during the Knesset’s winter session.
In the meantime, Levin must decide whether or not to convene the Judicial Selection Committee, a prospect analysts say is less likely without favorable members from the bar association to join the coalition’s three representatives on the panel.
The coalition is yet to name its lawmaker to the panel, though an opposition representative has been chosen.
Opposition lawmakers have set fully staffing and convening the Judicial Selection Committee as preconditions for returning to frozen talks to negotiate a solution for reforming the judiciary.
The coalition is on the verge of violating the third condition — not continuing with overhaul legislation — as it plans to introduce and advance a bill to curtail the court’s power to evaluate government decisions for their reasonableness.