Details of the 6th Netanyahu government’s “judicial reform”.

On Wednesday, Justice Minister Yariv Levin announced a sweeping and controversial overhaul of the judiciary and legal system that, if completed, would lead to the most drastic changes in the country’s governance system in Israel’s history.

The changes, presented by Levy during a press conference in the Knesset, would significantly limit the Supreme Court’s powers, provide government control over the judges’ selection committee, and significantly limit the powers of the government’s legal advisers.

Thus, under Levy’s proposals, the Supreme Court would be expressly prohibited from discussing and ruling on Israel’s Basic Laws.

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Basic Laws have a quasi-constitutional status, but unlike a formal constitution, most of them can be amended or even repealed by a simple majority vote. This is the case with the Fundamental Law: Human Dignity and Freedoms, which is particularly crucial.

View of the Supreme Court building from Wohl Rose Park in Jerusalem, April 2021. (Shmuel Bar-Am)

The Supreme Court has never overturned the Basic Law or amended such legislation, although in the past it may have ordered judicial review in certain cases.

Levin said that under his proposals, the Supreme Court could only overturn a text passed by a “special majority” on the basis of a general panel of 15 judges in the Knesset.

“Knesset laws will not be overruled by people who do not have the authority to do otherwise,” he said, referring to a law that expressly gives the Supreme Court the right to review texts passed by Israel’s parliament. never confirmed until now.

The Minister of Justice did not specify what this “special majority” would be. His HaTzionout HaDatit allies are demanding that 14 of Israel’s 15 supreme court judges agree to reject the law.

Supreme Court hearing on the request for a Knesset vote on the maritime border agreement with Lebanon, at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, October 20, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Levin noted that the “registration” clause will also be strengthened in the law.

Thus, Parliament can overturn a Supreme Court decision declaring a law unconstitutional by a simple majority vote. In the absence of a constitution, Israel’s highest court, the Supreme Court, acts as the guardian of political power and acts as a guarantor of individual liberties. Its role is even more important when one political bloc has a clear majority in the Knesset, as was the case after the last election.

If MPs vote to grant Benjamin Netanyahu judicial immunity and the Supreme Court invalidates the vote, the “notwithstanding clause” would allow the top court to suspend its decision to overturn the trial.

Levin added that the parliament would not be able to accept the text, which was unanimously rejected by the 15 judges who initially voted for it in the Knesset legislative body.

Israeli Bar Association President Avi Himi during a court hearing in Rishon Lezion on April 20, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Minister of Justice also noted that his reforms will change the composition of the Election Committee of Judges and ensure “equal representation of all branches of the Parliament.”

The commission will include “two public representatives” who will be chosen by the justice minister and will replace the two representatives currently appointed to the commission by the Israeli Bar Association. (The president of the Bar Association, Avi Himi, announced his resignation when the coalition took office).

The nine-member commission currently includes three members from the government and the ruling coalition.

The addition of two representatives chosen by the Minister of Justice would give the government a majority of at least five representatives to four.

Ayelet Shaked, Minister of Justice, Center, alongside Supreme Court Chief Justice Miriam Naor and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon at the ministry’s Judicial Appointments Committee in Jerusalem, February 22, 2017. (Credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel’s political right has long complained about the excessive influence of the three Supreme Court justices who sit on the judicial selection committee, although all branches of government represented on the panel have veto power over the final selection of Supreme Court appointees. “It will be the end of this situation where judges choose each other behind the scenes without any protocol,” he said.

Another initiative, which Levy calls the “first step” of these judicial reforms, is to bar the Supreme Court from using a “reasonableness” standard in its opinions. – or regulation – is in accordance with the law.

It would “allow the elected government to make and implement its own decisions,” Levin said, adding that the idea of ​​”reasonableness” makes no sense.

Finally, this reform package will change the status of legal advisors to the government and ministries so that their positions on decisions and other administrative regulations are not binding on the ministries or agencies they work for.

READ: Two right-wing camps, two opposing judicial reforms

Although Levin did not say so, it is likely that these reforms will result in the transformation of these professional advisers into political representatives.

Levin and other right-wing supporters of the reforms say these advisers often become obstacles to ministers implementing the policies they want, and that the move is an important step in expanding ministers’ control over policy-making. .

“These reforms will strengthen the legislative system and allow it to regain public trust. They will restore order: they will allow deputies to adopt laws, govern the government, advise legal advisers, and judge judges,” concluded the Minister of Justice.

Answering journalists’ questions after the presentation, Levin said that lowering the retirement age of magistracies – this reform has been considered – is not on the agenda.

He also denied the changes had anything to do with ongoing legal proceedings against members of the new government, including Thursday morning’s Supreme Court filing against Deri, or the corruption trial in which Netanyahu is currently on trial.

Levin has insisted that his reforms are balanced and, despite concerns from opposition parties and (many) pundits, the Supreme Court’s oversight power will still remain intact to the extent that it can strike down laws thanks to the “special majority” required to pass them. approval of all judges.

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The Minister of Justice also pointed out that the legislation will not be passed in the Knesset in a hurry, noting that “deep and serious discussions” will be held on the reforms. He added that various laws needed for reform will be improved and the texts presented in the third reading will be different from those presented at the beginning of the process.

“The constitutional revolution and the ever-increasing interference of the judiciary in government decisions and Knesset laws have significantly undermined public confidence in the judiciary, led to a lack of governance, and seriously damaged democracy,” Levin said.

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