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An Israeli judge handles twice as many cases on average than his peers in 16 Western countries, according to a study released on Sunday by Moshe Gal, head of the Justice Ministry's Courts Administration.
The study was commissioned by Gal's predecessor, Boaz Okun, and conducted by the Center for Public Management and Policy at the University of Haifa's Faculty of Law.
A judge in Israel deals with an average of 2,335 cases per year, compared to 1,185 for judges in Australia, England and Wales, Denmark, Norway, Portugal, Cyprus, Italy, Belgium, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, Ireland, Germany, Spain and France, according to the report.
And for every 1,000 people in the countries to which Israel was compared, 90 files were opened in court per year. In Israel, for the same population, 184 files were opened, the researchers found.
"When we talk about prolonged procedures and tardiness, we must take into account the fact that the Israeli courts are incomparably overloaded," Gal said. "When we say there is a decrease in public confidence in the courts, part of it has to do with this overload."
He said the media contributed to the public's lack of confidence by failing to point out the heavy caseload of Israeli judges. "This is an unfair situation," he said. "You must address this fact."
Gal acknowledged that the judicial process was not sufficiently efficient, saying he hoped to increase the productivity of the courts by 15 percent within the next 18 months.
There are about 600 judges in Israel. Gal said if the government added 300 judges and the courts improved their efficiency by 15%, Israel would reach the average level of European countries.
There were already noticeable improvements, he said, citing a net decrease in the number of cases pending in court during 2007. In other words, more cases were concluded than opened, according to current figures projected until the end of this year.
"Old cases," defined as those that were opened more than five years ago, constitute only half a percent of all the pending cases. There are 2,411 old cases.
These improvements were also noticeable in the Supreme Court, Gal said, even though it has been working at less than full capacity for the past few years because of vacancies that had still not been completely filled.
This year was the only one in the 2003-2007 period in which the number of completed cases was larger than the number of new cases, according to the report. And even though the average number of justices available during the year was 12, these justices completed at least 400 cases more than 14.5 justices did in 2003.