The ministerial committee in charge of preparing the 2007 Economic Arrangements Law approved a bill Wednesday calling for a sweeping reform of the Bailiff's Law.
The panel is headed by acting Justice Minister Meir Sheetrit, who prepared an earlier version of the bill several years ago, when he served as justice minister in prime minister Ariel Sharon's first government. He did not have time to implement it before elections were held in 2003, and he did not return to the same portfolio.
By including the bill in the 2007 Economic Arrangements Law, Sheetrit hopes to push the legislation through within three months.
The Israel Bar Association, which opposes many of the provisions in the bill, said it opposed including it in the Arrangements Law, a hodgepodge of legislation ostensibly meant to pave the way for implementation of the state budget.
"The Israel Bar is opposed to the proposed reform and to the inclusion of the bill, which is tantamount to a revolution, in the context of the Arrangements Law," the Bar said in a statement.
"The Bar believes the implementation of such a reform in the Bailiff's laws should be carried out through a legislative procedure that allows public debate and includes consultations with all the relevant professional bodies, starting with the Bar."
Sheetrit said the reform was vital. "The Bailiff's Office is one of the biggest scandals in the country," he said. "There are currently almost two million files in the office with an aggregate debt of almost NIS 1,300,000,000... The reform will significantly shorten and streamline the handling of files in the Bailiff's Office."
Sheetrit said the Knesset's Law Committee would prepare amendments to his bill for first, second and third readings, and that therefore the legislation would receive the same attention and debate as any "regular" bill.
Nevertheless, it is clear that unlike regular bills, this one will have a precise, rigid and short deadline.
The bill calls for the bailiff's offices to be separated from the magistrate's courts. The new independent offices will also have more powers than the current ones, if the bill becomes law. For example, bailiffs would be allowed to obtain information on the financial assets of debtors without their permission, unlike today.
The "fast lane" in the Bailiff's Office will also be streamlined. Anyone who is owed up to NIS 30,000 would be allowed to apply for repayment without using a lawyer. The office would collect the debt by seizing assets and taking other measures.
Under another proposed change, only those who owe at least NIS 500,000 could be jailed for failure to pay up.
The Bailiff's Office would only deal with debts over NIS 500 if the bill passes.
Sheetrit said the current situation had created a "paradise for debtors, and a hell for creditors who have won their lawsuits."