MKs postpone vote on bill increasing justice minister's powers

The Knesset Law Committee on Monday postponed - apparently for political reasons - its vote on a bill that is a major bone of contention between Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch. The committee was due to decide whether to approve for final readings a bill that would grant the justice minister exclusive authority in cases where he has established a new district or magistrate's court to transfer cases from an existing court to the new one or vice versa. The bill, which would amend the Court Law, was drafted after Friedmann established a new judicial district, the Central District, and a new Central District Court. Some of the powers included in the bill are currently shared by the minister and the Supreme Court president, while others are customarily in the hands of the Supreme Court president alone. The powers invested in the minister by this bill would be temporary. They are to last three years, though transferred cases would be completed in the court that he had chosen. Beinisch has said the bill is one of many pieces of legislation initiated by Friedmann to reduce her administrative autonomy. Indeed, during a hearing on the bill in the Law Committee last week, Friedmann's legal adviser, Guy Rotkopf, said Friedmann might conclude it was necessary to change all laws calling for joint decisions by the minister of justice and the Supreme Court president on the grounds that the Supreme Court president is not responsible to the people since he is not elected. The Labor Party has gone on record saying it would defend the Supreme Court against Friedmann's efforts to weaken it. According to a party official, Monday's scheduled committee meeting was postponed because Labor faction chairman Eitan Cabel, the leader of the battle against Friedmann, was called up for IDF reserve duty this week. He reportedly asked the committee to wait until he returns before bringing the bill to a vote. According to another source, Cabel has demanded that the bill be discussed by the coalition prior to a vote in the committee. According to the coalition agreement, each partner to it has the right to veto legislation involving constitutional matters. Cabel raised this demand before the bill was brought to the plenum for first reading on November 28. He warned that if the bill were passed, Labor would "cut off contact" with the coalition. The ruling Kadima Party ignored the threat and the bill was approved in its first reading by a vote of 66 to 16. In a talk with reporters at the Supreme Court on Sunday, Beinisch referred to the bill and to Friedmann's efforts to reduce her powers. She said it was essential for the courts to achieve administrative independence from the executive branch and that otherwise, their freedom to make decisions free of political influence would be threatened. Beinisch added that Friedmann's justification for reducing the power of the Supreme Court president because the president was not answerable to the public demonstrated his lack of understanding of the constitutional system in Israel.