Our fresh, new justice minister

We hope that Friedmann will have the skills and credibility to support the fight against corruption.

Daniel Friedmann 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Daniel Friedmann 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The choice of renowned law professor Daniel Friedmann as justice minister is a refreshing one. First, he is not a politician. Second, he is not part of our overly uniform justice system but a thoughtful critic of it. At a time when so many of our senior politicians are accused of one transgression or another, the leadership our judicial system, at least, must be beyond reproach. We hope that Friedmann will have the skills and credibility to support the fight against corruption, and perhaps even expand that fight to other spheres, such as the municipal level. Some have termed Friedmann's appointment as a threat to the judicial system, and even accused Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of exacting "revenge" by naming such a prominent critic. Friedmann did fight against the appointment of Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch, and pressed for his own colleague, Prof. Nili Cohen. He has also questioned the judicial activism, appointment system, and judicial review practices of the Supreme Court. Despite this, we tend to agree with Olmert, who said of Friedmann that he will "safeguard and protect the human rights of Israeli citizens, the law enforcement agencies, and above all, the dignity and status of the Supreme Court." It is precisely because the Supreme Court is one of our cherished institutions that it needs to be diversified. Our court is perhaps the only one in the world that essentially chooses itself, leading to an ideological uniformity that is unhealthy and undemocratic. Friedmann has proposed changing the way judges are appointed. We do not know if his alternative system is the best, or whether Friedmann himself would still advocate it in his current position. But the idea of a serious debate and consideration of this issue is a welcome one. We hope he pursues it. We also hope that Friedmann, even under the current system of choosing judges, will press for the appointment of Supreme Court justices who are fully qualified, and yet will diversify its current ideological bent. This includes religiously observant judges, though Friedmann held an honorary spot on the Shinui party, and is suspected by the religious parties of being anti-religious. Even those who support the judicial activism of former court president Aharon Barak should be able to agree that it is neither necessary nor healthy for this one approach to be perceived as dominating the court. In a democracy, representativeness is critical, particular for a body that is unelected and yet wields enormous power. More diversity can only enhance the court's reputation, and even enhance its ability to, in the rare instances when it is appropriate, overrule legislation passed by the legislative branch. But it is not just such lofty matters that deserve Friedmann's attention. Olmert said he was convinced that Friedmann would "significantly reduce procedures and the time taken to handle court cases." This too is important. On his first day in office, Friedmann should also do something else. He should read from the law the punishments that apply to those who leak information from ongoing investigations, whether from the police or prosecuting attorneys, and state that henceforth all leaks will prompt immediate investigation and prosecution to the full extent of the law. The culture of leaks grossly compromises the civil rights of defendants, whether individuals or public figures. Such leaks also harm the judicial system itself, by demonstrating that those in charge of enforcing the law are willing to break it in order to advance their cases. Such leaks are not an inevitable part of our system; if they are punished rather than tolerated they can be stopped, or at least greatly reduced.