Knesset wants role in drafting of judges' code of ethics

A special committee headed by retired Supreme Court justice Mishael Cheshin is due later this week to present Justice Minister Haim Ramon with the final draft of a new code of ethics for judges, but the Knesset Law Committee may have thrown a monkey wrench into the proceedings on Tuesday by insisting that the code require the panel's approval. During a meeting on Tuesday, the Law Committee approved for first reading a private member's bill submitted by its chairman, Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima), according to which the president of the Supreme Court would draft the code "in consultation with the minister of justice and the approval of the Knesset Law Committee." Last week, the Knesset approved the first reading of a government bill drafted by the Ministry of Justice authorizing the Supreme Court president to draft a code of ethics in consultation with the minister of justice, without Knesset approval. According to this bill, the code would be binding on all active judges and court registrars and on retired judges serving on administrative courts or public committees. After the Knesset plenum approves Ben-Sasson's bill, the Law Committee will try to reconcile his bill with the government's. However, it is not clear that the cabinet will accept the provision requiring the committee's approval. Supreme Court President Aharon Barak has come under fire from judges and former judges for involving the Knesset in the code of ethics by working to base the new code on legislation. Many judges, including one of Barak's closest friends, retired Supreme Court justice Yitzhak Zamir, maintain that the code should constitute nonbinding internal guidelines, to maintain the separation of powers between the legislature and the judiciary. However, Barak wants a change in the wake of a High Court ruling in 2000. That year, Yoav Yitzhak, the editor of the Internet site News First Class, petitioned the High Court demanding that retired Supreme Court justice Theodore Or not hear an appeal filed by industrialist Eli Horowitz, on the grounds that his participation involved a conflict of interests and therefore violated the 1993 code of ethics drafted by former Supreme Court president Meir Shamgar. The High Court ruled that Shamgar's code was not legally binding. After Barak succeeded Shamgar, he appointed a panel headed by Cheshin to revise the 1993 code. However, he wanted to make sure that, unlike Shamgar's, the new code would be binding and therefore approached former justice minister Tzipi Livni and current Minister Haim Ramon to ground the code in legislation. Ramon agreed and also consented to Barak's request to speed up legislative procedures so that the law would be in place before Barak retires in September. It remains to be seen whether Barak will agree to the bill if it includes the change approved on Tuesday by the Knesset Law Committee. Judge Gabriel Kling told the Knesset committee that the final draft of the code prepared by the Cheshin committee will be presented to Ramon on Friday.