Levin lays out the 4 central points of his judicial overhaul package: ‘Now is the time to act’

Justice Minister Yariv Levin holds a press conference at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on January 4, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Justice Minister Yariv Levin holds a press conference at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on January 4, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Justice Minister Yariv Levin now lays out what he says are the four specific elements of this “first stage” of his planned “judicial reform,” which he says is aimed at “strengthening democracy, rehabilitating governance, restoring faith in the judicial system, and rebalancing the three branches of government.”

“I’ve warned against the damage caused by judicialization. Now, the time has come to act.”

He says the overhaul package he is laying out will be debated at length in the Knesset, with all MKs to be heard and members of the judiciary and others.

His first change: The makeup of the panel that chooses judges will be changed to water down the voices of “sectoral representatives.”

“There will no longer be a situation whereby judges choose themselves in back rooms with no protocol,” he says. Specifically, there will henceforth be two representatives of the public chosen by the justice minister” instead of by the Israel Bar Association.

(The nine-member committee currently includes three members of the government and ruling coalition. Adding two representatives chosen by the justice minister would give the government a majority of at least five against four on the committee.)

Furthermore, he says, candidates for the High Court will have a public hearing before the Knesset constitution committee.

His second change: The Knesset will legislate “an override clause” giving the Knesset the ability to override court rulings striking down legislation. He defends the planned legislation as “balanced.”

“There will be no more striking down of Knesset laws without authority,” he says.

According to Levin’s proposals, the High Court will be explicitly prevented from deliberating and ruling on Israel’s Basic Laws, and will only be able to strike down Knesset legislation by a panel of all the court’s judges and with a “special majority.”

A High Court override clause will also be legislated to allow the Knesset to re-legislate a law struck down by the court with a majority of 61 MKs.

Levin says, however, that the Knesset will not be able to re-legislate a law struck down by the court in a unanimous decision of all 15 judges during the course of that Knesset term.

His third change: Levin previews moves to forbid the court from using a test of “reasonableness” against which to judge government decisions.

“There’s no such thing as a reasonableness test,” he claims.

(The attorney general earlier today advised against the return to ministerial office of Shas leader and criminal recidivist Aryeh Deri, calling it “unreasonable in the extreme. The High Court is to hear petitions against Deri’s appointment tomorrow.)

His fourth change: The final part of his reform, says Levin, will be new regulations allowing ministers to appoint their own legal advisers, instead of getting counsel from advisers operating under the Justice Ministry aegis.

In sum, Levin concludes: “The reform I am presenting will strengthen the judicial system and restore public faith in it. It will restore order. It will allow the legislators to legislate, the government to govern, the advisers to advise, and the judges to judge.”

He takes reporters’ questions, including one that suggests that the timing of his announcement, on the eve of the High Court hearing regarding Deri, amounts to “holding a pistol” to the head of the justices.

Levin says he has been working on these reforms for 20 years, that the timing would always have been queried, and that their unveiling today “is not related to any specific case. It is an “essential reform,” he says, “and should have been carried out long ago.”

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