THE UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, has expressed concern that several sets of proposed legislative changes currently being considered in the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) would, taken together, pose serious risks to the effectiveness of the judiciary to defend the rule of law, human rights and judicial independence.
The proposals in their current form would, through a variety of measures, limit the Supreme Court’s ability to subject legislation to judicial review and would require either a super-majority of judges, or even unanimity, for the top court to strike down legislation. They would also allow the Knesset to reinstate, by simple majority, any legislation the Supreme Court struck down, and limit the bases upon which laws could be reviewed.
“Breaking from decades of settled practice, such a law would drastically undermine the ability of the judiciary to vindicate individual rights and to uphold the rule of law as an effective institutional check on executive and legislative power”, said Türk on 21 February. “Experience in Israel, and around the world, has shown the enduring value of a judiciary that can independently hold the other branches of Government to the fundamental legal standards of a society set out in its basic laws.”
The current proposals would also change the judicial selection process by altering the composition of the judicial selection committee and changing the process of appointment of Supreme Court judges. While currently independent judges and lawyers comprise the majority of the selection committee, the proposals would move towards much greater political influence over this process. The proposed changes would allow a simple majority of five out of nine members of the committee to confirm appointments of Supreme Court judges – rather than the current seven out of nine – further deepening governmental influence in the appointments process.
“I am concerned that, if passed, these changes risk weakening human rights protections for all, but especially the most vulnerable communities and groups less able to vindicate their rights through representation in the executive and legislative branches of Government”, said the High Commissioner. These include, among others, Arab Israelis, asylum seekers and LGBTI+ people.
Demonstrations by tens of thousands of people in recent weeks against the proposed changes, including those in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, illustrate the extent of public disquiet with the proposed changes.
“Changes going to the heart of a country’s long-standing constitutional structure, and which affect well-established institutional safeguards, should only be undertaken following extensive consultation and with broad political and public consensus”, urged the High Commissioner.
“Given the degree of public and political concern, I call on the Government of Israel to pause the proposed legislative changes and open them up for wider debate and reflection. Such issues at the heart of rule of law deserve the fullest consideration in order to ensure that any changes promote, rather than diminish, the ability of the judiciary – and other branches of Government – to protect the rights of all people in Israel”, he added.