The International Bar Association (IBA) has said that it is “profoundly concerned” about proposed changes to the legal system in Israel.
It said that the proposals would “seriously undermine” the independence of the judiciary – including the Supreme Court – and dismantle legal checks on executive power.
Describing the plans, which have sparked large protests, as “deeply alarming”, IBA President Almudena Arpón de Mendívil Aldama urged the Israeli authorities to abandon them.
“Israel has been recognised as a substantial upholder of the rule of law with a senior judiciary which is much admired globally. These changes will wholly undermine that proud position,” she stated.
‘Threat to independence’
The proposed legislative reforms were introduced in January 2023 by the Israeli Minister of Justice, Yariv Levin.
The IBA said that, if passed, they would have the result of:
- Amending the composition and functioning of the judicial-appointment committee to confer a dominant position to representatives of the government,
- Enabling the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) to override decisions of the Supreme Court,
- Impairing the Supreme Court’s ability to review governmental decisions, and
- Severely undermining the independence of legal advisors to the government ministries.
“Furthermore, consideration has been given to a proposal to strip the Israeli Bar Association of its function of licensing of lawyers, thus posing a threat also to the independence of the legal profession,” the IBA president added.
Describing the rule of law as “an inherent component of modern democracies”, she said that, on an institutional level, this translated into guarantees of the independence of the judiciary and the monitoring of the exercise of executive power.
‘Pivotal role’ of Supreme Court
Referring to Israel’s unicameral system, the IBA pointed out that, in the absence of a second chamber, the restraints on the majority were mostly entrusted to an independent judicial system.
“This is why the Israeli Supreme Court plays a pivotal role in constraining the executive from a potentially negative use of power,” the IBA stated.
“The proposed reforms would have the effect of completely dismantling both the external and internal checks on the executive, through the independent judiciary and the independent legal opinions of the Attorney General and of the legal advisors to government ministries,” it continued.
“These reforms will curb legitimate oversight of the actions of government and the Knesset, leaving the executive free to use its power in a potentially arbitrary and discriminatory manner,” the IBA said.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges that he denies, has said that his aim is to restore a balance of power between the government and Israel's top court.