Justice Minister Yariv Levin announced his plans for judicial reform on January 4, and the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee held an introductory session on January 11. Levin and Simcha Rothman, the committee’s chairman, on January 11 and 12 published draft texts of three different laws that include all of the parts of the reform that were announced so far and are intended as a “basis for discussion.”
What happens now?
Under the title “‘Zion will be delivered with justice’ – returning justice to the judicial system,” the committee on Monday begins its debates on the first of the three laws, which deals with “the government and ministers’ authority to set their legal opinions during routine activity and in court,” according to the committee’s announcement.
This is the law that says legal counsel given by the attorney-general to the government or by one of the ministry legal advisers will not be legally binding. In addition, contrary to the current state, the government itself, and not the attorney-general, will decide what its legal position will be, and whoever represents the government in court will have to represent this position.
The discussions are set to take place at an unusually high clip – five times a week between Sunday and Thursday. Rothman said he wanted the discussions at first to be purely theoretical. The list of officials and experts who are scheduled to attend Monday’s meeting, other than members of the committee, includes Levin; Deputy Attorney-General Gil Limon; Prof. Daniel Friedmann, Prof. Shimon Shetreet, Prof. Menachem Ben-Sasson, Prof. Talia Einhorn and some former MKs.
The opposition attacked Rothman for his intention to hold theoretical discussions, however, and it will likely attempt to focus on the law’s implications on the ground.
The two other bills that are waiting in the wings will likely be proposed by the government. The first is a list of amendments to the Basic Law: The Judiciary, and the second bill includes amendments to the regular Courts Law. Despite the difference in the types of law, both will pass the same legislative process and will also likely be debated in Rothman’s committee.
When the government proposes laws, it is required to publish drafts in advance for public review. The coalition presumably wants to do this because these two bills are considered the “heavyweights,” as they include the Override Clause, which gives the Knesset the ability to override High Court of Justice rulings; the provisions that lay out how and when the High Court will be able to cancel laws; change the makeup of the Judicial Appointments Committee so that the coalition or people of its choice will have an automatic majority; and canceling the “legal unreasonableness” clause, which the High Court sometimes uses to cancel government appointments or decisions that are deemed “extremely unreasonable.”
The order of the legislation is subject to change. For example, should the High Court use the “legal unreasonableness” clause to cancel Shas chairman Arye Deri’s appointment as health minister and interior minister, the coalition may pause the debates to push through legislation that cancels this clause as fast as possible, enabling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reappoint Deri.
The big question is how long will the process take? There are many factors involved. The Knesset schedule includes a recess around Passover time that usually lasts a month and a summer recess of about two months. In addition, the opposition will attempt to stall the process and throw up as many hurdles as it can.
But the largest factor that may influence the timing of the legislation is public opinion. If the pace of protests continues to swell, the coalition will face mounting pressure to either drop or change parts of the reform.
This could lead to a shortened and narrower reform accepted by most of the Knesset. Therefore, it may pass quickly. However, this could more likely lead to a drawn-out battle in the arena of public opinion, whose results are unknown.