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High Court battles justice minister over Judicial Selection Committee

Minister Yair Levin said the court has no authority to demand he convene the panel.

Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin attends the Mida conference at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, Sept. 5, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.
Israeli Justice Minister Yariv Levin attends the Mida conference at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem, Sept. 5, 2023. Photo by Chaim Goldberg/Flash90.

The government requested on Thursday that the High Court of Justice cancel the injunction it published earlier in the day requiring Justice Minister Yair Levin to explain his reasons for not convening the Judicial Selection Committee.

“The honorable court is requested to cancel its decision to issue a temporary injunction” that was issued “without authority and in contravention of the law,” the government said.

The injunction, issued by Supreme Court justices Anat Baron, David Mintz and Yael Willner, doesn’t obligate Levin to convene the committee but means there will be only one hearing on the petitions filed against Levin, after which a decision will be made.

The judges also decided that the preliminary responses of Levin and the government will serve as answering affidavits on their behalf.

The government criticized this decision. “With all due respect, the court isn’t authorized to determine for the respondents, and certainly not when it comes to the justice minister and the government of Israel, what will be written in the answering affidavit.”

On Wednesday, Levin, responding to petitions against his decision not to convene the committee, said it was solely his decision and the court should not interfere. He also criticized Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara for calling his decision unjustified.

“Her radical position must be rejected, given that it contradicts positions of previous attorneys general,” Levin said.

Levin listed several reasons he was not bringing together the selection committee. First, that he made the decision against the background of a broad public dispute and complicated negotiations aimed at forging a consensus. The court could not step in to decide that dispute, he said.

Second, that as minister he is chairman of the Judicial Selection Committee, “part of a constitutional arrangement in the balance between the authorities,” and “interfering with the minister’s decisions and replacing his discretion with the discretion of the court will seriously damage the principle of separation of powers.”

Third, the minister said that compelling him to convene the committee would contradict the purpose of the law, and that there was nothing wrong in his decision that would justify judicial intervention.

Opponents of Levin’s decision argue there is a shortage of judges and the committee must meet to appoint new ones. That position is shared by Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, who said in July that she takes “a very grave view of the fact [that the committee hasn’t met] … given the significant shortage of judges and the resulting damage to the service provided to the public due to the significant load on the system.”

The nine-member Judicial Selection panel is responsible for appointing judges at all levels of Israel’s civil court system.

Levin reportedly wants to strengthen the government’s hand in the committee before convening it. Changing the composition of the Judicial Selection Committee is a key part of the government’s judicial reform program.

The government argues that the judiciary has too much control over the selection of judges to the point where it is self-selecting.

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