Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann opened his third assault on the longstanding practices, procedures and powers of the Supreme Court on Tuesday by announcing an initiative to change the composition of the Judges Selection Committee.
According to the proposed amendment to the Basic Law: Judiciary, two of the three Supreme Court justices who are currently members of the nine-member selection committee would be replaced by retired district court presidents.
The draft also calls for adding two members - an MK and a full professor at an university - to the Judges Selection Committee when it chooses new justices for the Supreme Court.
Currently, the Selection Committee consists of the justice minister, the president of the Supreme Court, two other Supreme Court justices, another cabinet minister, two MKs and two representatives of the Israel Bar.
According to Friedmann's proposal, in the near future, instead of a bloc of three Supreme Court justices, only one of the 11 members of the committee that picks Supreme Court justices will be a representative of the Supreme Court.
In an explanation appended to the draft, Friedmann wrote, "The purpose of the bill is to broaden the variety of opinions represented in the committee. According to the current law, all the representatives of the judiciary in the committee are Supreme Court members. Since the committee elects the judges in the lower courts, there is reason to determine that among the judges in the committee, there should be judges from other levels."
Regarding the addition of a third MK and an academic to the panel when naming Supreme Court justices, Friedmann wrote, "In light of the special role of the Supreme Court, especially its prerogative of judicial review... there must be greater public involvement in the selection of Supreme Court justices."
Friedmann has already submitted two other bills aimed at changing longstanding court practices. One would allow the Knesset to override a High Court of Justice ruling to nullify a law because it violates one of the basic laws, which it regards as constitutional laws.
The other would limit the tenure of all court presidents, including the Supreme Court's, and abolishes the seniority criterion in the choice of the Supreme Court president.
The new draft proposal also states that the retired district court presidents would be appointed to the Judges Selection Committee by the current presidents of the district courts. The additional representative of the Knesset would be the chairman of the Law Committee or someone elected by the Law Committee if the chairman is already a member of the Judges Selection Committee. The academic representative would be elected by the presidents of the universities.
The bill would go into effect 30 days after final approval by the Knesset. The two Supreme Court representatives on the Judges Selection Committee would be replaced by the district court judges at the end of their current three-year tenure.
Recently, in a briefing with justice affairs reporters, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch said she opposed any changes in the composition of the Judges Selection Committee. She said the current arrangements for naming judges was the best possible one, and one that was widely admired abroad because it was not a political body since a majority of its members belong to the legal profession.
Attorney Shai Segal, one of at least six candidates running for the head of the Israel Bar, told The Jerusalem Post he strongly opposed any changes in the current composition of the Judges Selection Committee. "All these proposals for change are meant to weaken the power of the Supreme Court," he said. "I think there is a proper balance in the committee as it is."