Beinisch retires after 5 years as Supreme Court president

Asher Dan Grunis succeeds her; Arab justice slammed for not singing ‘Hatikva’ at ceremony.

By JERUSALEM POST STAFF
February 29, 2012 01:10
Dorit Beinisch, Peres

Dorit Beinisch, Peres_311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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Dorit Beinisch stepped down on Tuesday as president of the Supreme Court, after fiveand- a-half years.

At the ceremony in the residence of the president of the state, Beinisch was succeeded by Justice Asher Dan Grunis.

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The entertainment was purely instrumental.

Contrary to usual practice, there were no female singers. This may have been due to the presence of Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar, who is president of the Supreme Rabbinical Court.

It was easier to do away with the vocals, than to put him in the position of having to decide whether to leave at the sound of a woman singing or to go against Halacha because he did not want to insult the president, the prime minister and the incoming and outgoing Supreme Court presidents by leaving.

The female instrumentalists were also more modestly attired than the female entertainers who previously performed at the residence.

Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran faced harsh criticism for failing to sing the national anthem, “Hatikva,” at the ceremony.

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Israel Beiteinu MK David Rotem was expected to ask Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman on Wednesday that Joubran be removed from his position on the Supreme Court, Army radio reported.

Every speaker at the ceremony, whether Israeli, Canadian, British or American, made reference to the Supreme Court as the guardian of democracy and/or shared democratic values.

There was consensus that without a strong, stable and independent judicial system there can be no democracy, because it is the courts that safeguard the rights and freedoms enshrined in democracy.

Before the speeches, moderator Daniel Peer invited President Shimon Peres and Neeman to the podium, where they signed the document testifying to Grunis’s appointment. Grunis was then invited to the dais to make his declaration of allegiance and sign it, thereby completing the procedure of his accession to office.

Peres, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Neeman all related in one way or another to the Bible and its references to judges and law.

Peres cited Moses as the greatest leader in the history of the Jewish people, and said that he was also president of the first Supreme Court of the Children of Israel. On the advice of Jethro, his father-in-law, he set up a legal system with sound judicial values. This system based on strength and justice prevails to the present day.

The ceremony at hand created yet another link in the splendid chain of presidents of the Supreme Court that had brought much honor to the state, Peres said.

Addressing Beinisch, Peres said that her term as president had been wrought with some of the toughest difficulties in the history of the Supreme Court. There had been harsh criticism and waves of attack as well as problematic attempts at legislation, all aimed at creating havoc, harming the status of the court, provoking fear and trying to force the court to regress, he said.

Yet Beinisch had fearlessly stood her ground and had defended the heritage, integrity and independence of the Supreme Court, said Peres.

When necessary, she had taken an aggressive position based on her judicial perspective and had left an indelible imprint on the justice system.

She had handed down very important rulings, specifically with regard to human rights and fair play, he said.

“We all owe you a great deal of thanks and appreciation,” said Peres who did not forget to congratulate Beinisch on her 70th birthday, which is the mandatory retirement age for judges.

Netanyahu spoke of the Supreme Court’s contribution to the country’s democracy in terms of preserving the freedoms of conscience, expression and religion, as well as workers’ rights and many other civic values.

“The court is the greatest defender of these freedoms and rights,” he said. “A strong judicial system facilitates the running of all other democratic institutions.”

Civil rights are at risk wherever there is no strong, independent judicial system, he warned.

It was for this reason, he said, that he was appreciative of what Beinisch has done over the past five-anda- half years. It was not an easy time with the justice system under frequent attack, he said.

“But the strong and stable Supreme Court did not allow itself to be harmed.”

Netanyahu pledged to oppose any bill that would damage the independence of the Supreme Court, which for 63 years has been striking a delicate balance between the rights of the individual and the right of the state to defend itself.

Israel’s Supreme Court can be proud of what it has achieved in creating this balance, said Netanyahu, adding that in this regard, the country is a model for the world.

He praised Beinisch for the emphasis that she placed on human rights without compromising the security of the state.

Netanyahu noted that Beinisch was not only the first woman to head the Supreme Court, but also the first Sabra.

More than all the flattering things that had been said about her, declared Beinisch, it was important for her colleagues to hear what the president and the prime minister had to say about the Supreme Court.

Beinisch said that she was taking her leave from an excellent system, in which highly professional judges were approaching their tasks with a sense of mission and full recognition of the importance of what they were doing.

Referring to Grunis, Beinisch said that he was completely familiar with the court system, having served on the Beersheba District Court for eight years, the Tel Aviv District Court for six years and the Supreme Court for almost a decade. He is an expert in civil procedure, the laws of public administration, company law and bankruptcy.

Beinisch characterized Grunis as a thorough professional and a brilliant jurist.

Aside from legal matters per se, she said, Grunis is interested in solving the problems of administration in the legal system, and she had no doubt that under his leadership there would be significant developments.

Although the court system is independent in the realm of justice, it does not enjoy independent administration and is reliant on the executive authority, Beinisch said. It had been trying for years to achieve administrative independence, as is customary in courts abroad, she said, but to no avail. This meant that the courts constantly had to turn to the executive authority to make budgets available and to ease the burden on judges. There are simply inadequate resources, she said.

Beinisch said she was proud of the court’s human rights record, in view of the fact that the State of Israel has neither a constitution nor a long legal history.

Grunis also spoke of the lack of resources, saying that many judges worked in appalling conditions in buildings that were physically unsuitable for their purpose.

There are 633 judges and dozens of court registrars throughout the court system performing “holy work,” he said.

They also have to cope with a huge backlog of cases that is far in excess of any international comparison. The ratio of files to the size of the population is completely disproportionate, he said.

Grunis said that it was essential for the courts to safeguard both Jewish and democratic values.

Supreme Court justices in Canada, Britain and the United States sent letters sent to both Beinisch and Grunis.

These messages were conveyed by Ambassadors Paul Hunt, Matthew Gould and Dan Shapiro, who respectively brought greetings and good wishes from Chief Justice of Canada Beverley McLachlin; Baroness Hale of Richmond, who is a justice of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom; and Ruth Bader Ginsburg of the US Supreme Court.

Hunt said that he was pleased to learn that Grunis had studied at the Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto, but Gould said that to him, it was more important that Grunis’s grandfather had been the chief rabbi of Cardiff. Gould started off his address in Hebrew, but apologized that he was not yet sufficiently fluent to make a speech.

Shapiro’s whole address was in Hebrew. He switched to English only when reading the letter from Ginsburg.

Neeman quoted from the Book of Deuteronomy – in which the Children of Israel are urged to pursue justice and appoint judges and officers in all the gates given to them by God, tribe by tribe, and to judge the people with righteous judgment – said that Israel continues to perpetuate this biblical injunction.

Peres left for the US on Tuesday night.

He is scheduled to open the annual conference of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Washington, meet with US President Barack Obama and launch an international Facebook page – in which he will invite young Arabs to be his friends for peace and make suggestions as to how peace can be achieved between people on the ground rather than by politicians.

Before leaving, Peres met for a tete-a-tete with Netanyahu, who will also be at AIPAC and who will also meet with Obama, but who will first travel to Canada.

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