Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch 311.
(photo credit: Dudi Vaknin / Pool)
It has long been a given in this country that “the wheels of justice grind
slowly,” yet, contrary to the old adage, they don’t necessarily “grind
exceedingly fine.” Both the state comptroller and the judiciary’s
ombudsman have heaped much scorn on this state of affairs, but that hasn’t
speeded things up in court. What was is what is – only more so and even
A particularly sad illustration of judicial foot-dragging was
added this week. The husband of a deceased plaintiff has sued the state for
compensation because of a case that dragged on for over 15 years, during which
his wife died. The couple initially sought judicial remedy for
construction flaws by their contractor. That was back in 1989.
mundane eight-page ruling wasn’t completed until 2005. By that time the
contractor claimed he could not redress the damages, in accordance with the
delayed verdict, owing to financial difficulties.
In a strikingly similar
case last year, NIS 210,000 was disbursed from public coffers to attorney Adiel
Cheshin, brother of retired Supreme Court justice Mishael Cheshin. In 1991 Adiel
Cheshin sued an ex-client for unpaid legal fees. The final decision was only
written in 2004, by which time the ex-client had declared bankruptcy and
couldn’t pay. Hence Cheshin sued the state.
The judiciary’s ombudsman,
retired justice Eliezer Goldberg, warned in 2010 that “in the end the public
will be financially liable for this dreadful disease of judicial
In both aforementioned cases the sluggish judge was Jerusalem
District judge (now retired) Michaela Shidlowsky Or, wife of retired Supreme
Court justice Theodore Or. She had long starred in judicial foot-dragging
complaints. Back in 2006, then-ombudswoman former Supreme Court justice Tova
Strasberg Cohen dealt with Shidlowsky Or’s backlog as well as that of Labor
Court deputy president Elisheva Barak-Ussoskin, wife of Supreme Court president
Strasberg Cohen’s report was uncommonly
exhaustive. It covered hundreds of complaints about proceedings dragged
out for years, certainly beyond what can be tolerated as even marginally
Strasberg Cohen ascribed the excruciatingly prolonged
proceedings – following a thorough inspection of this aspect of the courts’
dysfunction – to “repeated uncontrolled delays in fixing dates for court
sessions. Often prearranged schedules are changed without so much as even
scheduling new sittings.”
On average each day, each judge postpones seven
court sessions. Many thousands of sessions are routinely deferred in Israel’s
courts, with the exception of the Supreme Court. Moreover, files are
occasionally shuffled from judge to judge, causing further
The courts offer no redress other than to recommend
arbitration to more and more litigants. Since the costs of both mediation and
arbitration are borne by the parties, this is unsuitable for many plaintiffs.
This is justice for the privileged only.
In many cases, hearings are
scheduled intermittently, weeks apart. They are interrupted in the middle of
crossexaminations, for instance, which have to be resumed after a long hiatus.
Not only does this not serve the cause of justice, it subverts it. In our
non-jury system we trust judges to retain their impressions of witnesses for
unreasonably protracted periods.
Our judges, however, can hardly be
trusted to remember anything about witnesses. Each judge must deal with some
1,000 cases (in no small part owing to inexcusable procrastination) and ends up
Yet this anomaly isn’t preordained or immutable. Perhaps
the time has come to copy the US system, where trials are conducted continuously
– full day after full day. This isn’t unfeasible here. We can take leave
of inefficient, though familiar, legal habits and overhaul the system – even if
vested interests are sure to be sacrificed along the way.
hygiene will not be purified and respect for the rule of law will not be upheld
until our courts are forced to respect others’ time and abide by timetables just
as ordinary taxpayers must.
Above all, it must be acknowledged that
“justice delayed is justice denied.” It’s worth paying heed to the late
US chief justice, Warren Burger, who argued that “inefficiency and delay will
drain even a just judgment of its value.”