'Public trusts courts more than other gov't branches'

Supreme Court President Beinisch speaks about accomplishments of late Supreme Court Judge Moshe Landau.

dorit beinisch 311 Ariel Jerozolimski (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
dorit beinisch 311 Ariel Jerozolimski
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
The judiciary enjoys a high level of public trust relative to the other branches of government, Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch said on Tuesday.
In a rare media interview with Israel Radio, held in light of the passing of former Supreme Court president Moshe Landau a day earlier, Beinisch spoke about Landau’s accomplishments as a judge and his influence on the judiciary.
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“The law is built layer upon layer and era upon era. Landau’s generation was the founding generation, which laid the groundwork for the entire structure. Judge Landau, during his 30 years on the Supreme Court bench, was one of the foundation layers,” Beinisch. “Because of his rulings and those of his compatriots, the courts have become the fortress of individual rights. It is because of Landau and his generation, who in his rulings protected the citizen from the arbitrariness of the sovereign, at a time when Israel was facing many existential challenges, that we were able to maintain our democratic character.”
When asked about the centrality of the 1961 Adolf Eichmann trial in Landau’s career, Beinisch said, “With all the great historic significance of the Eichmann trial, Landau’s real contribution was keeping Israel democratic despite the fact that we have no constitution.
It is no simple thing to protect individual and human rights without being able to reference a written document, but rather by basing rulings on universal values of a liberal, democratic society.”
Recalling her own interactions with Landau as a lawyer in the State Attorney’s Office High Court division, Beinisch said, “I argued cases before Landau since the beginning of my legal career at the State Attorney’s Office. It was never easy because Landau was a judge who was very strict and to the point. You had to go before him, prepared with all the details. He asked many questions and was very sharp on the uptake. He accepted the answers and proceeded, but didn’t relent on any detail.
“It was stressful going into his courtroom. You got a nervous stomach ache, like before performing on stage.
“I enjoyed arguing before him, because it produced a high level of judicial deliberation, but it was definitely a challenge,” Beinisch said.
“Landau was very strict on respecting prisoners and accused rights. He was critical of police investigatory methods and always took care that the investigated subject was not humiliated. In doing so he marked a trail and set a standard of legitimate judicial criticism of the state authorities.”
When asked about Landau’s work as a judge in light of his right-wing political leanings, which were revealed in media interviews following his retirement, Beinisch said that “Landau’s political worldview was never an issue. He treated every case on its legal merits. Many years passed between his retirement from the bench and when he first expressed himself publicly on his views.”
Asked if the courts today followed Landau’s path of avoiding politically charged issues, Beinisch said. “I think that the courts are careful not to enter the muddy waters of politics and controversy.
If in Landau’s day the most burning issue was the settlement of Alon Moreh, in our times there are many more topics that are controversial, and when it comes to rights, the court must intervene, even if the issue is controversial.
“True, Landau warned of the ‘dictatorship of the judiciary,’ but he also gave us the immortal quote on the topic of censorship. Back then there where cinema newscasts and they were censored.
One time the censors removed footage of police officers beating protesters, and in his ruling on the issue Landau said: ‘A sovereign that takes upon itself the authority to determine what is good for the citizen to know, will end up determining what the citizen can think, and there is no greater contradiction than that to a true democracy.’ “When I say that the foundations were laid by Landau and his generation, that is what I mean. But the times change and the pendulum is destined to swing. I do not know where it will end up next,” Beinisch said.
In response to a question on whether the public believed in the fairness and neutrality of the courts, she said, “I still believe that the public has faith in the judiciary, but it is a weighty topic that should be dealt with independently. Suffice to say that there is a high level of trust in the judiciary relative to the other branches of government.”