Levin admits original judicial appointments bill was a danger to democracy


Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the architect of the government’s judicial reform plans, admitted that a key piece of his legislation, in which the coalition would control all three branches of government, would lead to an unacceptable situation in a democratic country.

In an interview with Channel 14 two weeks ago that was broadcast online on Monday, Levin said that while many arguments against his proposals were baseless, he accepted critics’ accusations made against the original judicial appointments bill, which would have automatic majority of the coalition government. a panel chosen by judges: “such a change would lead to a situation where the three branches of government would be one branch”.

“This claim, that [the blurring of branches] it could ultimately lead to a constitutional crisis, it’s a demand that cannot be ignored — this cannot happen in a democratic country,” Levin said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu halted the judicial reform process last week to allow talks on a compromise, hours before the key judicial appointments bill was set to become law.

Levin’s interview excerpt The daily Haaretz and the Ynet journalist picked Attila Somfalvi on Monday, who accused the justice minister of clearly admitting that his legislation was anti-democratic.

But Levin also claimed in the interview that the government responded to the concerns by softening the proposal. The original bill had passed its first reading; The apparently mooted legislation, which is awaiting second and third final (final) Knesset readings, gives the coalition full control over the first two Supreme Court justices appointed in each Knesset term, and near-total control over appointments other judges.

Illustrations: Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and other judges at the High Court of Justice hearing on petitions against the appointment of Shas party leader Aryeh Deri as a minister due to his recent conviction in tax offences, January 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel /Flash90)

“I think it should be heard, so what we’ve done is just come and say, gentlemen, this is a valid concern that we’re responding to,” Levin said, noting that the new bill allows a coalition government to appoint two judges per term, and the third and fourth would require a wider agreement from opposition and judicial representatives on the panel.

The average number of Supreme Court judges appointed in a Knesset term is 2.6, meaning that a coalition can still consistently determine the character of the court. In addition, the original and current legislation allows the coalition government to appoint the president of the Supreme Court, give him a possible second vote in the selection committee and possible control of Supreme Court panels.

Levin has refused to suspend the legislation and is reported to have been staunchly opposed to efforts to soften it, threatening to quit the coalition if Netanyahu did so. Defending the original legislation in late February, Levin said it would allow for the creation of a “much more diverse court.”

In an interview with Channel 14, Levin said that the Knesset did not need to stamp all his wishes.

“I don’t hesitate to stand up and look [at the bills]and say, OK, on ​​this matter … there is wisdom in what is being said [by critics], so it is right to correct it,” he said. He insisted, however, that the reform was “good for all the citizens of Israel.”

“It will create a Supreme Court that will give everyone a voice and a place for everyone, with judges of every color of the rainbow,” he said.

Religious Zionist MK Simcha Rothman, a key parliamentarian behind the reform, criticized journalist Somfalvi for apparently misrepresenting Levin’s remarks, noting that the justice minister said the government had responded to concerns through mitigate the bill.

“What does the Minister of Justice say? There was a hole in the proposal, which under certain conditions allowed a future coalition government to take over the Supreme Court,” tweeted Rothman.

“And since that was not the intention, we filled this hole ourselves, in response to the criticism,” he said.

There have been protests against the plans for 13 weeks around the country, and they regularly block Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway. Police used water cannons and police equipment to clear demonstrators, and for the first time on Saturday they used a sound gun – a loudspeaker that emits a distressing high-frequency sound.

Police deploy water cannon against Israelis on a main road to protest plans by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to reform the judicial system, in Tel Aviv, April 1, 2023. (AP Photo/Ohad Zwigenberg)

The judicial reform legislation aims to weaken the court’s ability to act as a check on parliament, as well as giving the government almost total control over the appointment of judges.

Critics say the plans will politicize the court, remove key checks on government power and seriously damage Israel’s democratic character. Proponents of the measures say they will stay judges who they claim have overstepped their bounds.

The attorney general has warned that the coalition’s current package of legislation would give the government almost unfettered power, without providing any institutional safeguards for individual rights.

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