Recently, the leading coalition in the Knesset proposed some changes to the judicial system in Israel. With all of the hype in the media about the proposed changes, it is very easy to forget how the system currently works. The process from civilian to a judgeship is incredibly lengthy and very thorough. Understanding how the system works is no easy task, but the following is a step-by-step guide to how the court system roughly works, and the path to the supreme court in Israel.
The Basic System:
For courts that apply to most people, Israel has a pretty simple judicial setup with only three levels of courts. The system begins with the magistrate’s courts – 29 courts, to be exact. The Magistrate courts are also known as the שלום courts or Peace courts in English. The magistrate’s court hears financial claims of up to 2.5 million shekels and criminal cases punishable by up to seven years in prison. The system of magistrate courts makes up the backbone of the entire setup. Some parts of the magistrate courts include family courts, juvenile courts, traffic courts, and small claims courts. Many court cases start here.
Moving up the ladder you’ll find the district courts. The district court hears cases outside the parameters of the magistrate court and also acts as the court of appeals for the magistrate courts. There are five district courts.
Finally, the supreme court. The supreme court is the final court of appeals for the whole system, as well as has original jurisdiction over a few different legal issues. For example, the supreme court hears all cases that pertain to alleged wrongdoings committed by public authority. Furthermore, right to the Israeli Government’s website, “the High Court of Justice exercises judicial review over the other branches of government, and has powers “in matters in which it considers it necessary to grant relief in the interests of justice and which are not within the jurisdiction of any other court or tribunal.”” The supreme court acts as a check over other branches of government, specifically and importantly, the Knesset.
Although most people would filter through the three court systems, there are also labor courts and military tribunals and religious courts, and other courts that deal with other legal issues outside the realm of typical citizens. This area of the court system is not in question so much and does not affect as many people. If you would like to learn more about the specialized courts in Israel, as well as a more in-depth look into all of the courts, feel free to read Basic Law: The Judiciary.
How: Judgeship Appointments
Magistrate Judge and Baseline Requirements
All Judges must be Lawyers who are registered (or can be registered) with the Bar Association. They must have been practicing law for at least five years (continuously or intermittently), with two years in Israel. Practicing Law, in this case, means acting as a lawyer, in a different legal position in the civil service, teaching law at a university, or in a different distinct legal position. These are the criteria for the Magistrates Court, but also the general criteria for all judges.
District Court Judge
Must have served in a peace court for at least four years. Further, a candidate for district court must be a member of the bar for no less than seven years – with the same general guidelines of practicing law as a candidate for the magistrate would have.
Labor Court Judge
Candidates for a judgeship in the labor courts have similar requirements to district court judges. Candidates for registrar and senior registrar for peace courts or registrar for labor courts have requirements similar to magistrate judges.
If a candidate fulfills all requirements, they are permitted to apply on the website of the judicial authority. They must fill out all required forms and include recommendations – preferably from other judges. A judicial candidate must attach professional articles, essays, or judgments that show what kind of judge they will be.
If a candidate is a serving judge who wishes to advance – from magistrate to district court, for example – they will sit in front of a “two-year committee”. Two retired female judges make a committee to interview the candidate. They decide how to recommend him to the president of the supreme court.
The Interview Process:
All people in the queue for an interview for judgeship will meet with the sub-committee for the selection of judges. This committee consists of a supreme court judge, a Knesset member, and a bar association representative. Two sub-committees work at the same time and hold two meetings each month.
The subcommittee interviews last around 20 minutes, and the sub-committee may ask any relevant question they would like. Leading up to the interview, the sub-committee would have already spoken with the recommenders of the candidate, as well as read all of the candidate’s submissions.
Following the subcommittee interview, if a candidate is deemed appropriate to proceed, they will go to the Judicial Candidate Assessment Center for three days to undergo testing by psychologists, a judge, and representatives of the Bar Association.
Assuming all goes well, the candidate moves to one final Judicial Selection Committee of three supreme court judges, two members of Knesset, two ministers, and two representatives of the bar association. This committee must vote in a majority if a judge is suitable to add to a possible judicial database. After some time, if a position opens up, this committee will pick someone from this database to then become a judge.
Finally, there is a swearing-in ceremony at the president’s residence and the candidate becomes a judge.
The SUPREME Court:
Requirements for the supreme court are much more rigorous than all other courts. A candidate for the supreme court must:
- Have served for at least five years in a district court
- Are registered – or entitled to be registered – members of the Bar association
- Have practiced continuously or intermittently for at least ten years under the same rules for candidates for peace courts.
For an Attorney general or state attorney who wishes to be appointed to the supreme court, there is an 18-month cool-down waiting period.
Finally, the final committee of nine members must vote seven to appoint the candidate.
Now that we understand the process from civilian to supreme court justice, let’s figure out how the proposed judicial reforms would affect the courts. But… What are the proposed reforms? Found in an article from the Times of Israel’s legal affairs and settlements reporter, the proposed reforms are thus:
- Disallow Judicial strike down of Governmental Laws and Decisions
- Allow Knesset to override supreme court decisions
- Give leading coalition in Knesset control over Supreme Court Judicial Collection Committee
- Eliminate the concept of Judicial review over Basic Laws
- Ministers have their own legal representation rather than from the Justice Ministry
In essence, these changes would give the governing coalition near complete control over the judiciary. Effectively eliminating checks and balances in the Israeli Government. Each step to a judgeship is meticulously planned and executed. The system works so that each facet of government is separate, yet controlled. Without the separation between the leading party of the Knesset and the Judiciary, there is no control and checks over how the Knesset acts.