Attached photo credit: Mark Neiman (GPO)
“Judicial independence does not mean judicial activism. The principle of judicial independence, or the impartiality of the judge, is a fundamental principle without which there is no law, no justice and no truth. The independence of the judge is not the freedom to do whatever he or she wants, but is there to ensure they are faithful to the law and not to other centers of power, to the truth and to justice and not to public opinion.”
“We must ensure a public atmosphere that allows the judge to work with complete independence, without fear or favor. We have to distinguish between sharp disagreement that is based on deep respect for the principle of judicial independence, and attacks on the court and its judges which aim to threaten judicial independence.”
President Reuven Rivlin today, 23 October / 14 Cheshvan, hosted a conference titled ’70 years of independence of the Israeli legal system’ and in honor of the retirement of former President of the Supreme Court Miriam Naor. The conference was held at the President’s Residence and attended by Minister of Justice Ayelet Shaked, President of the Supreme Court Esther Hayut, State Attorney Shai Nitzan and current and former senior members of the Israeli legal system.
“Israel’s independence and an independent Israeli legal system are one and the same thing. One cannot conceive of Israel as an independent state without an independent Israeli, Hebrew legal system,” said the president at the opening of his remarks. “In the current atmosphere, it seems that the title of this conference makes everyone uncomfortable. But if there is a feeling that judicial independence in Israel has gone too far and poses a threat to democracy, it is appropriate to return to first principles. Judicial independence does not mean judicial activism. Judicial independence is the basis of every judge’s ruling, whether they are conservative or activist in outlook. The principle of judicial independence, or the impartiality of the judge, is a fundamental principle without which there is no law, no justice and no truth. Judicial independence is what allowed or allows disagreement, sometimes deep and painful, between the judges themselves.”
The president continued, “I, too, am amongst those who criticized the Supreme Court, sometimes harshly, over the years. Criticism, disagreement – even when expressed harshly – these are evidence of a healthy democracy. But we must ensure a public atmosphere that allows the judge to work with complete independence, without fear or favor. We have to distinguish between sharp disagreement that is based on deep respect for the principle of judicial independence, and attacks on the court and its judges which aim to threaten judicial independence. If we do not, all of us, defend the fundamental principle of judicial independence, what do we have judges for?”
The president continued, “The independence of the courts and the independence of the Knesset are not contradictory. Judgement and legislation are part of the same system. The judiciary and the legislature talk to each other, learn from each other and debate each other. I have no doubt that the Basic Laws that have been enacted by the Knesset, such as Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty or Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation, or – from a different perspective - the Nationality Law, and other laws were influenced by the opinions of the justices of the Supreme Court, and that the opposite is the case. And a comment to legislators – no-one is above the judge apart from the law. As speaker of the Knesset I said more than once ‘do not put the court in a position that it has to rule between contradictory laws that the Knesset has passed’. I fully understand the criticism of the courts because of judicial activism. I do not understand the furious criticism when the court is required to adjudicate between contradictory laws. Now, more than ever, we need to create a new discourse between the judiciary and the legislature that will ensure the judicial independence and the sovereignty of the Knesset for the next 70 years.”
Concluding his remarks, the president said, “The Supreme Court plays a huge role in creating the spirit, the liberty and the independence of the State of Israel. We must do all we can to protect its role and its independence so that it protects us. I ask you, justices of the Supreme Court, judges of Israel – do not be awestruck and do not be afraid. Be strong and courageous and continue your work. God bless you.”