Left upset as Friedmann reform bill approved in first reading

Labor Party threatening to leave coalition over bill, which would widen minister's authority.

friedmann 224.88 AJ (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski  [file])
friedmann 224.88 AJ
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann's bill to reform the judicial system passed a first reading in the Knesset on Wednesday, despite threats by the Labor Party to break with the government over the bill. The Labor and Meretz parties complained that the bill - which would grant Friedmann the authority to set up new courts, transfer cases between district courts and determine which types of cases would be handled by individual courts - undermined the High Court. The bill passed with 66 MKs in favor and 16 against, despite last-minute threats by Labor faction whip Eitan Cabel to "cut off contact with the coalition." Cabel said that the bill violated the terms of the coalition agreement, which outlined that the authority of the justice system would not be undermined. Two no-confidence motions were filed against the bill due to Friedmann's long-standing feud with the High Court. "We all know what this bill is really about. We cannot allow [Friedmann's] personal feud against the High Court to threaten our entire judicial system," said MK Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) after both motions failed to pass. Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch was opposed to the bill's wording and demanded that the authority it granted require the court's approval. The provision in the bill that garnered the most opposition would grant the justice minister the right to transfer cases from an existing district court to the new Central District Court established recently in Petah Tikva. According to Article 43(b)(3), "the director of the Courts Authority is authorized to transfer certain procedures filed in an authorized court to be heard by the new court as long as the hearings on these procedures have not yet begun." The provision has already triggered strong opposition on the part of Beinisch and former Supreme Court president Aharon Barak. During a symposium last week held by the Forum of Law and Society and Netanya Academic College, Beinisch charged that the provision granted the political echelon the right, for the first time, to take over a prerogative that had always been in the hands of the judicial branch. Barak indicated that he had been driven to speak out against Friedmann's overall program to weaken the High Court of Justice and the president of the Supreme Court, because Friedmann had begun to interfere with the autonomy of the courts - a reference to the same controversial provision. Friedmann welcomed the passing of the bill, stating that the bill would "help the new central district court that was established [in Petah Tikva] to function and will ease the workload. The citizens will benefit from this decision the most."