ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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Report: Controversial judicial reforms left vague in draft Netanyahu coalition deal

Leaked pact includes Knesset override clause without specifying how many votes will be needed to overrule a High Court ruling; Levin said calling to lower retirement age for judges

Supreme Court Chief of Justice Esther Hayut and other justices at a hearing on the election committee decision to disqualify Likud party member Amichai Chikli from running in the upcoming Knesset election, October 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Supreme Court Chief of Justice Esther Hayut and other justices at a hearing on the election committee decision to disqualify Likud party member Amichai Chikli from running in the upcoming Knesset election, October 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Controversial legal reforms proposed by expected coalition partners of prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu have only been vaguely expressed in an emerging coalition deal, Hebrew media reported on Thursday.

According to a draft agreement leaked to the Haaretz daily, the coalition “will examine corrections to recent harm done to the principles of the separation of powers. An override clause will be legislated.”

The reported deal refers to legislation proposed by Netanyahu’s incoming coalition partners that would allow the Knesset to re-legislate laws struck down by the High Court of Justice.

Citing sources familiar with the coalition talks, Haaretz reported that Netanyahu preferred the sparsely worded text regarding the override clause — which does not specify the number of votes that would be needed to strike down a High Court decision in the 120-seat Knesset — in order to stave off potential public criticism over the contentious legislation before it is even formally proposed or passed.

Additionally, there is a lack of agreement among the parties over the details of the potential legislation, Haaretz reported.

Members of incoming coalition have vowed to pass the override clause, and also to give the governing coalition of the day control over the panel that selects justices. The planned legislation, demanded by the Religious Zionism and United Torah Judaism parties as well as numerous Likud MKs, would likely allow the Knesset to re-legislate any such law or enact legislation with immunity from court review from the outset.

Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with MK Yariv Levin during Levin’s election as Knesset speaker, December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The proposed judicial changes — particularly the override clause — have been denounced by Netanyahu’s political rivals and prominent legal figures as destructive to Israel’s democratic system, leaving the parliamentary majority of the day with no brakes on its power.

Meanwhile, according to an unsourced Channel 13 report on Thursday, Knesset speaker and potential justice minister Yariv Levin has proposed lowering the age of retirement for Supreme Court justices from 70 to 67.

If enacted, the move would require four of the 15 serving judges to step aside, including Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, 69, Uzi Vogelman, 68, Yosef Elron, 67, and Anat Baron 69.

Under current law, those places would be filled by the nine-member Judicial Selection Committee, composed of four politicians, two representatives of the Israel Bar Association, and three Supreme Court justices.

However, a bill submitted by far-right Otzma Yehudit MK Yitzhak Wasserlauf proposes to remake the selection panel, by nixing the bar appointees in favor of two lawyers recommended by the justice minister and approved by the government.

If both moves are approved, the government can effectively fill those four spots on the court with justices to its taste.

Netanyahu and his Haredi and far-right partners won 64 of the 120 Knesset seats in the November 1 elections. Netanyahu has been working since then to cobble together a new government and last Friday was granted another 10 days to finalize his coalition, giving him until December 21.

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