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Key judicial reform bill debate delayed due to terror attack

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee delayed the discussion following requests from several lawmakers.

Knesset member Simcha Rothman, chair of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, leads a meeting of the panel on judicial reform on Feb. 13, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Knesset member Simcha Rothman, chair of the Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, leads a meeting of the panel on judicial reform on Feb. 13, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

The Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee announced on Tuesday that it would postpone a planned discussion on a judicial reform bill due to the deadly terror attack in Samaria earlier the same day.

It made the decision after requests for delay from several lawmakers. The debate had originally been scheduled for Wednesday. A new hearing date hasn’t yet been rescheduled.

The bill seeks to prevent the Supreme Court from using the legal justification of “reasonableness” in certain cases. Those include ruling on government and ministerial committee decisions, and on the appointment of senior officials.

Under the bill the court can still apply the reasonableness criteria to other, lesser decisions of a clerical nature, and to appointments of officials at the level of local authorities.

According to the text of the draft bill published on Monday: “Those who have the authority to adjudicate according to law, including the Supreme Court, will not judge or issue an order against the government, the prime minister, a minister or another elected official as determined by law regarding the reasonableness of their decision.”

Critics of the “reasonableness” standard say it has substituted the court’s judgment for that of the Knesset. The court can simply overturn any parliamentary decision on the vague basis that it’s “unreasonable” in its view, they say.

The criteria also opens up all Knesset actions and decisions to judicial review, as the court can weigh in on any subject on the grounds of whether or not it’s “reasonable,” critics argue.

Religious Zionism Party Knesset member Simcha Rothman, chairman of the committee, said that the proposal was in line with those of Supreme Court Judge Noam Solberg, who supports eliminating the “reasonableness” standard, and with the election platform of many opposition politicians.

“I call on the members of the committee to conduct a respectful and serious discussion, in order to advance the amendment that we all believe is necessary,” he said.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid attacked the plan.

“This is a full-on coup d’état: crushing democracy, crushing the Supreme Court, and this time they are also going after the legal adviser to the government. All this will lead to fatal damage to the economy, endangering Israeli security, destroying our foreign relations. We will be there in the plenum, in the Knesset, on the streets of the country,” he said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu froze the legislative process for judicial reform in March to give time for negotiations with the opposition to work.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog hosted talks involving various Knesset factions with the aim of forging a compromise. However, talks broke down last week.

“What has been proven is that [National Unity Party leader Benny] Gantz and Lapid were playing a game. It was a misrepresentation of so-called negotiations,” said Netanyahu following the breakdown.

“We gave [them] three months; their representatives did not agree to the most minimal understanding. They tried to kill every amendment. We will take the steps in a measured manner according to the mandate we received [from the voters],” he added.

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