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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The judicial system is facing an overload crisis because of a lack of judges and must fill 30 vacancies immediately instead of spending time discussing changes in the procedures for appointing judges, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch said Wednesday.
"The procedure for selecting judges is complex and there is what to think about," she told justice affairs reporters during a briefing at the Supreme Court. "But we don't have time. If all we do is think about what there is to improve and don't deal with the urgent matters, we will fall so far behind that we will never be able to catch up."
The briefing with reporters was Beinisch's first since being appointed court president last September.
Beinisch told reporters that her top priority was to speed up court procedures to handle the flood of cases filed at all levels of the court system. One of the problems, she said, was the acute shortage of judges, partly because of vacancies created in the past two years, and partly because of the need for more judges than the current quota allows.
The "emergency situation," as Beinisch described it, has become a point of dispute between her and Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann, who is the chairman of the Judges' Selection Committee and the one who determines its agenda.
Friedmann insisted on devoting much of the committee's time during its meetings on February 27 and March 7 to a discussion of reforms in the system of selecting judges.
Some of his suggested reforms are procedural, such as ordering candidates to include their university grades or obliging judges seeking promotion to a higher court to appear before a subcommittee of the Judge's Selection Committee.
Beinisch also rejected claims that under the present system, committee members knew hardly anything about the prospective judges.
"We know more about the candidates for the judiciary than is known about candidates for any other position, including senior positions, in the public sector," she said, adding that all a committee member who wants to inform himself about a candidate has to do is open the candidate's file.
"A new justice minister has been appointed who says we should not be in a rush," said Beinisch. "He has an agenda of his own that he wants to introduce. I hope he will study the needs of the judicial system and understand that the revolution he wants to foment is a long-term one. He must first understand the system."
Beinisch also made it clear she opposed changes to the Judges Selection Committee. Friedmann is on record as saying he wants to break up the bloc of three Supreme Court justices on the nine-person committee, replacing two of them with judges from the magistrate's and district courts.
Beinisch said she would like to see whether Friedmann, in his capacity as a professor of law at Tel Aviv University, would include a doctoral student in a committee charged with choosing new faculty members.
That, she said, would be comparable to his suggestion regarding the Judges Selection Committee. "There is a hierarchy in the judicial system," she said, "and the assumption is that the best judges reach the top."
Beinisch said she did not want to express an opinion regarding Friedmann's proposal to pass a law giving the Knesset the power to override a High Court ruling disqualifying a law because it violated legislated human rights, but indicated that she did not see the need for it. She also said that the question should be considered in the context of a comprehensive constitution and not as an isolated issue.
Beinisch pointed out that the court had only rejected six pieces of legislation in the 15 years since the Knesset passed the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom and Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation.
She said the most important contribution made by judicial review of legislation was that the government and Knesset asked themselves in advance whether a bill would pass the scrutiny of the High Court and try to draft it to make sure that it does.
"The idea of override does not look good to me," she concluded. "But there are all kinds of possibilities for compromise." Beinisch said that one of the improvements she wanted to make in the court system was to speed up important criminal cases.
Currently, trials are spread out over long periods of time. Beinisch said she hoped that by the end of the year, courts will convene on serious cases at least twice or three times a week. Lawyers as well as judges will have to adapt themselves to this new system by clearing their diaries and making themselves available for the hearings, she added.