What are Israel's controversial judicial overhaul plans?

AFP , Monday 24 Jul 2023

Israel's hard-right government was planning Monday to push through parliament a key element of its controversial judicial revamp.

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Israel s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a session of the Knesset, Israel s parliament, in Jerusalem, Monday, July 24, 2023. AP

 

The "reasonability clause" would remove the power of the Supreme Court to overrule government decisions that its judges deem unreasonable.

The wider reform plans have sparked protests, often drawing tens of thousands, since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government proposed them in January.

Critics charge they threaten liberal democracy itself by removing important checks and balances on executive power in a country that has no formal constitution.

Netanyahu's government, which includes far-right parties, argues they are needed to curb overreach by unelected judges, many of whom it accuses of a liberal bias.

Opponents have accused Netanyahu, who is fighting corruption charges in court, of trying to weaken the judiciary in a personal conflict of interest, a charge he denies.

Here are the major elements of the legislation presented by Justice Minister Yariv Levin:

 'Reasonability' clause 

The 120-seat parliament, known as the Knesset, was expected to give final approval to the "reasonability" clause in a vote scheduled for Monday.

Critics of Israel's Supreme Court, notably on the political right, point to this clause as among the gravest examples of judges exercising too much power.

The Supreme Court in a recent high-profile ruling barred a Netanyahu ally, Aryeh Deri, from serving in the cabinet because of Deri's previous tax evasion conviction.

Netanyahu was forced to fire Deri, even though there was no law that directly barred him from serving in government.

 Naming judges 

Netanyahu's government also wants greater powers in the system to appoint judges, including to the highest court, the Supreme Court.

It has demanded greater representation on the panel which appoints them -- a body now overseen by the justice minister and including judges, lawmakers and lawyers representing the Israeli Bar Association.

Under the government's plan and other proposals, the Bar Association members would be removed from the process.

An amended version of Levin's proposal, endorsed by lawmakers in late March, would put more lawmakers and members of the judiciary on the panel, while still granting greater powers to the government.

That proposal awaits final votes by the full chamber.

A separate piece of legislation would change the way the Supreme Court's president is selected, also giving the government a greater say.

Legal advisers 

Levin's proposal also envisages curbing the authority of legal advisers attached to government ministries.

Currently, their guidance has quasi-legal force, as Supreme Court judges cite it when ruling on the propriety of government actions.

The proposal would change that and make their advice non-binding.

While lawmakers have yet to vote on the bill, they adopted legislation in March that critics condemned as another move to diminish the authority of civil servants.

Parliament also voted to strictly limit the grounds for declaring a premier unfit for office, which the opposition called a "personal law" to protect Netanyahu.

Israel's Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said in March that Netanyahu's actions on the judicial reform may place him in conflict of interests due to his ongoing trial.

 'Override' clause 

Critics of Israel's Supreme Court also argue its judges have exceeded their authority by claiming the right to strike down laws passed by the Knesset.

In response, the Netanyahu government proposed a so-called "override clause" which would allow parliament to overrule Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority.

It passed a first vote in parliament on March 14, but has not completed the process to become law.

Netanyahu last month told The Wall Street Journal that he had scrapped the override clause from the reform package.

Other proposed measures would bar the court from striking down any amendments to the Basic Laws, Israel's quasi-constitution, and require a unanimous decision by all judges to invalidate other pieces of legislation.

Opponents have warned these measures would give the legislative branch nearly unchecked authority.

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