Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch charged on Tuesday that Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann's proposals for changes in the judicial system could lead to its disintegration.
In an interview with the monthly journal of the Israel Bar, she also charged that statements made by Friedmann and others [Beinisch was referring to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert but did not mention him by name] were damaging to the court.
Asked whether she thought Friedmann was acting against the Supreme Court for personal reasons, she replied, "I do not have the answer. I can't rule out the possibility that there is a personal element nor can I confirm that there is. I want to say that the justice minister is expressing professional positions that he expressed before [being appointed], but not as powerfully and not with as much involvement [as he is now]."
Beinisch acknowledged that popular faith in the judicial system had fallen and added that part of the reason was because of "a campaign aimed at harming the court."
She added that the campaign started before Friedmann. "It began with certain groups that came from different value systems which fought against the courts and what they described as the 'elite' for ideological reasons," she said. "The things that have been published in the past year about the courts and the alleged deterioration of public confidence in them are not coincidental. There is a deliberate campaign waged by interested and powerful parties that have joined forces, each for its own reasons.
"For some it is out of political interest, for others it is the interest of those who feel the legal system is out to get them or threatens them."
Regarding the changes that Friedmann has instituted or is trying to institute in the judicial system, Beinisch said, "I feel and see a clear trend whereby the justice minister's proposals are not aimed at introducing reforms in the constructive sense of the term. We are talking about proposals that could lead to the disintegration of the judicial system."
One type of change that Friedmann was trying to introduce had to do with constitutional matters, including reducing the powers of the High Court of Justice, restricting judicial review of legislation and making changes in the composition of the Judges Election Committee, she said.
The other type had to do with the administration of the court system, a subject directly related to the organizational and instructional independence of the courts. Beinisch charged that Friedmann was trying to undermine the judicial hierarchy by changing the system of choosing the presidents of lower courts and the administrative prerogatives of the Supreme Court president. "I sense a clear trend in all of these proposals to break up the system and destroy the hierarchy which, for some reason, the minister describes as dependency on the president of the Supreme Court," said Beinisch.
She added that statements by Friedmann - to the effect that Israel was treated better in international courts than in the High Court and that if the High Court restrained itself he would not have to force it to do so by legislation - were likely to cause damage to the court's power.
Friedmann declined to respond to Beinisch's comment about whether his motivations were personal or not. However, it should be added that the reporters who asked him to comment did not quote Beinisch accurately.
But Friedmann did tell reporters that if the High Court failed to show restraint regarding the types of petitions it was prepared to hear on the grounds of justiciability, he would consider passing legislation to restrain it. "At this point, I am not considering passing a law regarding topics that the High Court should not intervene in," he said. "Many legal experts believe that justiciability should be reduced, but that it should be left to the court to do so. We have two new justices in the Supreme Court and I expect more to be added soon.
"Therefore, I feel we should wait some period of time to see how the court operates in its new composition. I hope that it will be wise enough to choose those cases which should be heard before it and filter out those that should not."
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