The High Court of Justice hearing on the Judicial Selection Committee that was set for Thursday was postponed, the court ruled on Monday, after a request by Justice Minister Yariv Levin for private representation.
The hearing was delayed until September 19 to allow Levin’s representative time to prepare their case.
Originally Levin’s arguments were to be included in the attorney-general’s submission, but the justice minister and Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara had a public spat in an exchange of correspondence last week over her representation of him at the hearing.
On Wednesday the justice minister attacked the attorney-general for not representing his arguments and instead supporting the position of the petitioners. Baharav-Miara said that she would include his arguments in the filing, and that while her team attempted to find legal solutions with Levin, there were no options that he accepted that were supportable by law. Levin demanded private representation and a postponement of the hearing on Sunday.
The attorney-general approved the request and filed her opinion on Monday. Her office stated that Levin is obligated to convene the Judicial Selection Committee so that it can begin approving judges.
The Attorney-General’s Office argued that the justice minister had an obligation under the 1984 Courts Law to convene the committee and appoint new judges with due speed when there are staffing shortages. Rather than having wide discretion in the assembly of the panel, the officer’s opinion is that he has a mandatory authority.
The judicial system is under significant strain in part due to understaffing and the minister has a duty to address the matter, according to the filing. The judiciary is set to suffer a shortage of 53 judges by the end of the year, including two justices. The courts is steadily seeing an increase in cases each year. There was a 20,000 increase in cases from 2020 to 2021. It was also noted, based on a 2022 Council of Europe report, that compared to European countries Israel has far fewer judges per capita. Israel is has an average of 7.8 judges per 100,000 citizens, and the European average is 22.2.
The Attorney-General’s Office warned that there were hundreds of applicants and candidates waiting for review, and that the process for filling judicial slots was a lengthy process. The committee has not been assembled since April 2022.
Arguments that the committee cannot convene because a cabinet minister member has yet to be appointed aren’t correct, said the filing. The committee of nine can be assembled in a fragmented fashion, as long as there are seven or more panelists. There is also no reason not to fill the final position.
Levin’s decision not to convene the committee came after anti-reform candidate Amit Becher and his camp were victorious in the June 25 Israel Bar Association election, allowing them to appoint new representatives to the Judicial Selection Committee. On June 14, Yesh Atid Karine Elharrar had been elected as one of the Knesset representatives, but it took almost a month to hold a second election appointing Otzma Yehudit MK Yitzhak Kreuzer. Justice Noam Sohlberg replaced Supreme Court vice-president, joining court Presiding Esther Hayut and Justice Yitzhak Amit. Levin sits on the panel, but the spot of an additional cabinet minister was never filled.
At the Bar Association 12th annual conference on Monday, Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee chairman Simcha Rothman said that it was clear that there needed to be changes on the committee. Kreuzer said that the government was elected to change the committee’s composition.
“There is no doubt that with the new composition we will work to create it with as broad a consensus as possible for the benefit of all citizens of the State of Israel and Israeli democracy which is important to all of us,” said Kreuzer.
Mohammad Naamnih, one of the Bar representatives to the panel, said that they would be able to achieve diversity in appointments without changes to the committee’s panel.
'The justice minister is abusing his authority'
One of the petitioners, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, welcomed the attorney-general’s position.
“The burden on the courts hurts the citizens of the country. It seems that the justice minister is abusing his authority for personal political considerations,” said MQG. “This coming Thursday we will appear at the Supreme Court in order to protect Israeli democracy, and we will do everything in our power to stop the coup d'état.”
Levin and Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara had a public spat in an exchange of correspondence last week over her representation of him at the hearing. On Wednesday the justice minister attacked the attorney-general for not representing his arguments and instead supporting the position of the petitioners. Baharav-Miara said that she would include his arguments in the filing, and that while her team attempted to find legal solutions with Levin, there were no options that he accepted that were supportable by law. Levin demanded private representation and a postponement of the hearing.