(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Critics want to replace the prosecution and its independence as well as to politicize appointments of the attorney-general, state legal advisers and the Supreme Court, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit said late Wednesday.
Speaking at the National Library of Israel conference on the founding of the British Mandate-Israeli legal establishments, he characterized the challenges that the current legal establishment must contend with.
He said many would-be prosecutors in the public sphere “want to replace the state prosecution and its exclusive obligation to review evidence and make conclusions based solely on that evidence.”
Mandelblit said that these principles are “still foundational and essential, even in our time and for the public discourse surrounding appointments to the Supreme Court; the manner of appointing the attorney-general; and the manner of appointing other government legal advisers.”
“How do we prevent politicization of the legal system – and how do we guarantee forever that legal professionalism and excellence will remain the only criterion for vetting appointments… in terms of quality… and neutrality?” he asked.
He said that this remained a central challenge for him, just as it was a challenge when the state’s legal establishment was founded.
Highlighted at the conference was Sir Orme Clarke’s contribution to the founding of Palestine’s legal system. In June 1918, the British military officer and lawyer was sent to Palestine to transform the Ottoman judiciary into a new judicial system based on the British model. The system he created was the basis for what became the Israeli judiciary.
Although Clarke stuck to the Ottoman system of law and administration – as required under international and British law – he made two critical departures from prewar arrangements.
First, he manned the courts with Jews and Arabs, in contrast to the Ottomans who had employed only Turkish judges.
Under Clarke, the top judicial officials were always British. But most of the work, which was conducted in the magistrate’s courts, was conducted by “native” judges.
His other major move was to cut back the number of district courts and transfer much of the work to the magistrate’s courts.
Clarke advocated localizing justice in order to make it more accessible to the population.
He meticulously detailed his work in letters to his wife, Elfrida. They contain descriptions of the conditions in Palestine at the time, appointing judges, finding suitable locations for the courts and discussions with senior British officials about the independence of the judiciary.
The letters were kept in the Clarke family for generations, but had been sitting in a tin box in storage without full recognition of their historical value. They have now been donated to the National Library of Israel by his late grandson’s wife, Elizabeth Clarke, who attended Wednesday night’s event.
Supreme Court President Esther Hayut also spoke at the event, emphasizing the importance of the letters and discussing the historical background of the Israeli legal establishment.
National Library of Israel chairman David Blumberg said that archives, such as the letters donated by Clarke, made the material and their donors a part of Israel’s national memory.
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