Former Israel A-Gs on reforms: 'They threaten to destroy judicial system'

"The achievements of the High Court, which have advanced society and benefit every person, are now in grave danger."

A screen capture of the live stream feed from a hearing at the High Court of Justice (photo credit: screenshot)
A screen capture of the live stream feed from a hearing at the High Court of Justice
(photo credit: screenshot)

A letter signed by former attorney-generals and state attorneys published on Thursday morning expresses explicit opposition to the judicial reforms proposed by Justice Minister Yariv Levin, which they say “do not herald the improvement of the system but rather threaten to destroy it.”

The letter, signed among others by previous attorney-general Avichai Mandelblit and his predecessor, Yehuda Weinstein, as well as former High Court president Aharon Barak and former High Court vice president Elyakim Rubinstein, said they were all “shocked to hear [Levin’s] plan to make changes in the justice system.”

The controversial judicial reform plan includes giving politicians a majority in the Judicial Appointments Committee, meaning they’ll effectively be able to select judges themselves. It also includes an override clause, a clause seen as extremely problematic since it would essentially enable any coalition to override High Court decisions.

According to the legal professionals who signed the letter, this would be, effectively “turning the High Court of Justice from an independent institution, which rules without fear and without bias, into a quasi-political body that will be suspected of biasing the law in favor of the government.”

What concerns does the letter highlight?

The letter highlights four main concerns over the judicial reforms, the first being – as mentioned – a court that would be semi-political and be biased towards the government.

 MK Simcha Rothman and Justice Minister Yariv Levin present next steps for judicial reforms at Knesset legal committee. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM) MK Simcha Rothman and Justice Minister Yariv Levin present next steps for judicial reforms at Knesset legal committee. (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

The second concern is that such a reform would significantly limit “the authority of the court to exercise effective criticism of the government so that it does not misuse its power.”

The third concern, one of the main ones which the anti-judicial reform protests in Tel Aviv focuses on, is that such a reform would allow a coalition majority “to legalize any act of the government, no matter how wrong and harmful it may be, through a superseding clause.”

The fourth and final concern over the reforms is that they would “prevent the function of the attorney-generals in the government offices as gatekeepers whose job it is to warn against illegal decisions.” In other words, there would be nothing effective to stop different government branches, committees, ministries and the like to push for action that a legal body would deem illegal.

"The achievements of the High Court, which have advanced society and benefit every person, are now in grave danger."

Israeli former attorneys-general

“The High Court of Justice is a magnificent institution, one of the best established in Israel, and it is also recognized outside of Israel as one of the best courts in the world,” the letter said. “In the absence of a complete constitution, and without a full bill of rights, it is the body that controls the rule of law towards the government system, fights governmental arbitrariness and corruption, and protects human rights and the rights of minorities. The achievements of the High Court, which have advanced society and benefit every person, are now in grave danger.”

The group of attorney-generals and state attorneys, some of the leading figures in the legal field in Israel’s history, called upon the government to withdraw from the published plan so as to “prevent serious damage to the judicial system and the rule of law, in order to preserve Israel as a Jewish and democratic state in light of the values expressed in its Declaration of Independence.”

Michael Starr, Yonah Jeremy Bob contributed to this report.