Beinisch: Legal system must adapt to Facebook, Twitter era

Supreme Court chief slams attempts by the Knesset to erode judges’ powers; "Facebook and Twitter have changed the face of our region."

dorit beinisch 311 Ariel Jerozolimski (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
dorit beinisch 311 Ariel Jerozolimski
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
New social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter have far-reaching implications for the legal arena, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch told judges in a speech at the National Judicial Conference in Jerusalem on Wednesday.
Around 600 judges from across the country are attending the conference, which includes a panel discussion on the impact of the Internet and social networking on social, business and legal conduct.
“Facebook and Twitter have changed the face of our region and the power to change social and political reality at lightning speed,” Beinisch said. “The law will have to adapt to new realities.”
The Supreme Court president cited privacy issues, as well as the way Internet technologies are used in the war on crime and security, as areas that affect the legal world. She noted that there was a time lag between technological developments and changes to the legislative process.
Beinisch also discussed slow changes taking place in Israeli law and said that while various ideas regarding new legislation have been raised, so far these have not included reforms to restructure the courts, which have remained unchanged since the British Mandate ended in 1948.
Israel’s Basic Laws have also not been completed, Beinisch noted.
In 1949, the First Knesset, in what was called the Harari Decision, charged its Constitution, Law and Justice Committee with drafting Basic Laws, which were intended to form the chapters of a future constitution. Between 1958 and 1988, the Knesset passed nine Basic Laws, all of which pertained to the institutions of the state. In 1992, it passed the two Basic Laws that related to rights and the basis of the Supreme Court’s recently declared powers of judicial review. These were Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, and Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation.
Though there is still no constitution, the Basic Laws remain the basis of the country’s constitutional law.
“The [proposed] Basic Law on Social Rights, whose core subjects are very much on the agenda, has not been actualized at all,” Beinisch said.
Rights groups called on the government to legislate a Basic Law on Social Rights this week, in the light of social-justice protests that have gripped the country.
Beinisch dubbed the courts “a mirror that reflect the face of society” and said that while it was not the role of the courts to determine economic and social policy, the justice system was a tool to implement that policy.
“I want to believe that if Israel’s priorities will be to further a social agenda, the judiciary and law enforcement will also have their turn in correcting the discrimination that has been ongoing for many years,” she said.
Beinisch moved on to criticize what she said were attempts by the Knesset to erode judges’ powers.
“From time to time bills are raised in Knesset to oppose the courts, and especially the Supreme Court, by those seeking to reduce its power or to strengthen the political component of the [judicial] appointments process,” she said.
Beinisch’s comment was likely a reference to a bill proposed in July by Likud MKs that would allow the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee to veto appointments of Supreme Court justices.
Beinisch concluded by saying that while Israel is facing great changes, judges’ obligation to respect and protect human rights remains the same as ever.
“The legal system is at the core, and requires judges to make judgements according to the law and the basic values of the system, in a society that is built on the profound meaning of a Jewish and democratic state,” she said.
“These values are the compass that guides our ship through stormy seas.”