Privatizing the Courts – Denying Access to Justice

Magistrate Court, photo by Ron Almog

Tomorrow, the Knesset Constitution Committee will discuss a bill promoted by Minister of Justice, Yaakov Neeman, according to which courts could forward civil lawsuits to private lawyers, who would be designated as “arbitrators,” without needing permission from the parties. ACRI: This kind of law has no equivalent anywhere in the world; if it passes, it would cause severe damage to the Israeli court and justice system. 
Tomorrow (4 September 2012), the Knesset Constitution Committee will discuss the Courts Bill (Mandatory Arbitration) in preparation for its second-third readings. According to this proposed bill, the president or deputy of a Magistrate Court could forward civil lawsuits to an arbitration process by a private lawyer without needing permission from the parties to the case. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) is opposed to this bill, as is Supreme Court President, Justice Asher Grunis, and many other retired justices and senior jurists.
In a position paper prepared by ACRI Attorney Anne Suciu for Van Leer Institute’s Center for Social Justice and Democracy in memory of Yaakov Chazan, she warns: This bill would lead to the de facto privatization of the Israeli legal system on an unprecedented scale and would severely damage the existence of an independent judicial system. While judges in Israel undergo a strict selection process and are bound by a long list of restrictions intended to ensure their impartiality, the main condition for appointing lawyers as arbitrators is a seven-year seniority.
A comparative review of other countries around the world shows that even in countries where cases are forwarded to arbitration, the parties to the case maintain the right to access the public legal system. In fact, growing criticism of the arbitration process in some countries led to legislative initiatives that seek to protect the weaker parties in the arbitration process.
According to ACRI Attorney Anne Suciu, “Years of under-funding led to an unbearable burden on the court system. Instead of solving this problem by amending the system, many decision-makers blindly accept the view that privatization is the desired solution for almost every public service that is not properly functioning. The Mandatory Arbitration Bill is an extreme initiative that has no equivalent anywhere in the world, and it could violate the basic right to a due process.”
For the complete position paper (in Hebrew), click here.

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Categories: Democracy and Civil Liberties, Due Process, Privatization

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