Supreme Court President Asher Grunis 390 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun)
The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Tuesday decided to ask
the Justice Ministry to respond to opposition by Supreme Court President Asher
Dan Grunis against what has emerged as a controversial reform for enlarging the
role of arbitrators in resolving litigation of sums under NIS 2.5
Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman initiated the bill, purportedly
to reduce the NIS 1.4 million in costs to magistrate court judges having to
handle certain cases and give the judges relief from what many acknowledge is an
Private arbitrators usually get paid by the
parties involved, which would reduce costs for the state.
moving the cases out of the courts would make the number of cases on the docket
But a coalition of opposition, including Grunis, members
of Knesset, the Israel Bar Association, senior jurists and major NGOs like the
Association for Civil Rights in Israel has formed against the
Some are claiming it is a cunning and subtle attempt to undermine
the judicial system’s independence and close the courts from being an avenue to
prevent overreaching by the state on civil liberties.
Neeman is known for
prior initiatives to empower the executive and legislative branches at the
expense of the judiciary.
Others such as Grunis do not accuse Neeman of
any hidden agendas, but merely state that the reform was not well-thought out,
and that well-intentioned or not, it could have major negative constitutional
consequences for judicial independence, due process and access to judicial
The most controversial procedural aspect of the reform would be
that courts could compel litigants to go to arbitration without the parties’
permission. The parties must normally agree to arbitration.
Anne Suciu wrote a position paper warning that the bill would “lead to the de
facto privatization of the Israeli legal system on an unprecedented scale and
would severely damage the existence of an independent judicial
Suciu also wrote that judges in Israel “undergo a strict
selection process and are bound by a long list of restrictions intended to
ensure their impartiality,” whereas the main condition for appointing lawyers as
arbitrators is merely seven-years seniority.
Seven-years seniority does
nothing to ensure impartiality argued Suciu. Rather, the qualifications for
arbitrators at most ensure competence. ACRI also noted that growing criticism of
the arbitration process in some countries led to legislative initiatives that
seek to protect the weaker parties involved.
The mere fact that courts
are overburdened and underfunded does not mean that private arbitration is the
only solution, said ACRI.
Rather, it would encourage increased funding
and the appointment of more judges.
At Tuesday’s Knesset hearing, Labor
MK Isaac Herzog accused Neeman of trying to pull off a “revolution” and of
pulling out the legs from under Grunis.
The Bar also expressed firm
opposition to the reform, suggesting instead temporary judicial appointments
when the courts get overloaded.
Likud MK Yariv Levin was one of the few
voices supporting the reform.
He questioned the idea of Grunis voicing
any public position on the issue, asking why the Supreme Court president was
getting involved and turning himself into “a party” to a debate that should be
left to the Knesset.
One other voice in favor of some kind of reform
enlarging the role of arbitration in Israel was an expert from the
Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
The expert claimed that arbitration
could level the playing field in litigation between individuals and large
corporations and developers, which frequently arises.
But a number of
other MKs said that Grunis’s opinion could not be ignored, and it was resolved
that the Justice Ministry would need to address Grunis’s objection at a hearing