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The Ministerial Committee on Legislation decided Sunday to postpone by two weeks the discussion of a bill proposed by Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann to limit judicial review of legislation in accordance with the country's basic laws.
Friedmann first proposed the legislation in early March, but waited until now to present it to the ministerial committee, the first formal step in passing it as a government-sponsored bill.
After a bitter discussion in which Friedmann criticized Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch for distributing a position paper opposing the bill, the committee accepted a recommendation by Minister-Without-Portfolio Ruhama Avraham to give the coalition parties more time to discuss the matter. According to the coalition agreement, any coalition party has the right to veto any bill amending the current constitutional arrangements.
If passed, Friedmann's proposal would be the first law to state explicitly that the High Court of Justice is empowered to reject any Knesset legislation that violates the Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation or the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom.
However, the Knesset would be able to override the court's decision. The law would remain in effect for six months after the court had rejected it.
During that time, the Knesset could re-legislate the bill, with a majority of 66 MKs in the third and final reading. If it did so, the High Court could not hear a petition challenging the constitutionality of the legislation for five years. The re-legislated law would be in effect at the end of that period, but the court could once again hear petitions challenging its legality. If the court one again rejected the legislation, the Knesset could override it again according to the same conditions.
The bill has aroused strong opposition ever since Friedmann first announced it. Many critics, including former Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar and ex-justices Yitzhak Zamir and Dalia Dorner, have come out strongly against it and severely criticized Friedmann.
On the eve of Sunday's scheduled committee meeting, Beinisch released a position paper saying she "opposes the bill in its present form."
"The bill addresses issues that are at the heart of constitutional law in Israel. They should not be dealt with in the context of an amendment to the Basic Law: Adjudication, isolated from the other constitutional matters that are under consideration. All of these matters should be decided from a broad perspective and after a comprehensive and exhaustive public debate over the constitution."
Beinisch singled out two issues as problematic. First, the bill would only empower the High Court to reject laws that it found contradicted the two basic laws on human rights. There are nine other basic laws that the court would not be able to use as a basis for rejecting legislation.
Second, the override clause would require a majority of 66 MKs, and only on a third reading. She pointed out that the Basic Law: Knesset requires a majority of 80 MKs to make changes in it.
During Sunday's meeting, Friedmann described the High Court as "a state within a state. The court is above everything. The State Attorney's Office and the courts are completely autonomous and are not responsible to anyone, or perhaps responsible one to the other."
Friedmann said Beinisch had no business intervening in the deliberations of the ministerial committee. "Were we included in the High Court ruling regarding [Sderot and] the Gaza periphery?" he asked - a reference to a High Court decision last May rejecting the state's strategy for protecting schoolchildren in the area by establishing safety zones rather than by fortifying every classroom.
The justice minister also criticized the Supreme Court president for "becoming involved in the legislative procedure by releasing a statement to the media on this matter."
Dr. Isaac Kfir lectures on international relations at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.