David Rotem 311.
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
During a special hearing called following the suicide of Jerusalem Magistrate’s
Court Judge Maurice Benatar a week ago, the Knesset Law Committee heard on
Monday from the heads of the judicial system about the critical need for
comprehensive changes to the way they work.
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The judge had written in his
suicide note that one of the things that drove him to the brink was work
“In his death he commanded us to live. Maybe his death will
infuse new life into the justice system,” Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman
A clear message that arose from the meeting, which was attended by
the justice minister, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, Courts
Administration head Judge Moshe Gal and courts ombudsman Justice (ret.) Eliezer
Goldberg, was the need for additional judges to help carry the load.
number of open court cases per capita in Israel is the highest in the world,”
said the justice minister, “and so is the number of lawyers. Comprehensive
changes must be made to the system, changes that will touch on each and every
Neeman said that during his tenure as justice minister, 120
judges were appointed after nearly half a decade where no new judges entered the
system. Neeman said, however, that filling open positions was not enough
and additional measures were necessary.
“For years the justice system has
been accused of dragging out judicial processes,” Beinisch said. “It isn’t
foot-dragging, it’s overload. Judges aren’t factory workers and their work cannot
be measured by their output. The additions that we receive are nothing but
patches on a hole-filled fabric – they won’t solve the problems.
Israel the judicial branch is independent in its decisions, but is not
independent when it comes to budgets. We need the executive branch to fulfill
the system’s targets. That won’t happen unless there is a real change,” she
“Today judges adjust to the situation at the expense of their
families and personal lives. It is vital that the adjustment doesn’t come at
justice’s expense,” Beinisch said.
According to Gal, Israeli courts are
among the most overburdened in the world. Figures compiled by the courts
administration reveal that an average magistrate’s court judge works on 1,350
cases a year and a district court judge works on 400.
“In recent years
the burden has substantially increased. Close to 70 judges are currently
working on a single case, simply because they are ‘megacases,’” Gal
“The solution is to decide what the level of service we want to
give Israeli citizens and set targets accordingly. The efforts that the system
is carrying out internally can improve things by 20-30 percent. If we want real
change, and such change is necessary, we have to take other actions.”
a democratic government justice costs money,” said Gal. “When the state
and the government want to change priorities they know how to do
Judge Varda Alshech, who chairs the organization representing
judges, said that the burden on Israeli judges was twice that of the world
average and that the job was demanding and insufficiently
Alshech said that judges’ pensions are too low and that many
cannot afford to retire, even though they can no longer handle the
“A judge’s work doesn’t end in the courtroom,” she
said. “Even when they are not in court, they are busy in their chambers
reading and writing and that needs to be taken into account when setting
“New electronic systems have enabled judges to do some of their
work from home, but you can’t solve the problem by telling judges to dedicate 24
hours a day to their work. We have families too,” Alshech said.
judges and MKs then started arguing with the Finance Ministry representatives,
who said that the problems in the justice system could be solved by internal
reforms and who presented figures that said that the ratio of judges to citizens
was on par with most Western countries.
“In the past decade the number of
judges has doubled. The justice system’s budget has grown more than that of any
other government ministry,” deputy budget supervisor Rotem Peleg
Beinisch said that the money that the Treasury planned to pay an
external company to examine the problems in the system could be put to better
use by the system itself.
Committee chairman David Rotem (Israel
Beiteinu) said that he would do everything in his power to see to it that the
necessary changes are made.
“I will be your spokesman,” he told the
judges. “You are judges and are constrained in what you can do and say. I am a
politician and I can find a way to make the Treasury cooperate.”