The Supreme Court of Israel with the Prime Minister and the President
The Supreme Court (Hebrew: בית המשפט העליון, Beit HaMishpat HaElyon) is the highest court in Israel. It has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all other courts and, in some cases, original jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court consists of 15 justices who are appointed by the Judicial Selection Committee. Once appointed, justices serve until retirement at the age of 70, unless they resign, or are removed from office. The current President (Chief Justice) of the Supreme Court is Miriam Naor.
The Supreme Court is situated in Jerusalem‘s Givat Ram governmental campus. Its jurisdiction applies to all of Israel and the Israeli-occupied territories.
According to the principle of binding precedent (stare decisis), a ruling of the Supreme Court is binding upon every other court, except itself.
Over the years, the Supreme Court has ruled on numerous sensitive issues, some of which relate to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, the rights of Arab citizens and discrimination between Jewish groups in Israel.
Supreme Court Justices are appointed by the Judicial Selection Committee, which is composed of nine members: three Supreme Court Justices (including the President of the Supreme Court), two cabinet ministers (one of them being the Minister of Justice), two Knesset members, and two representatives of the Israel Bar Association. Appointing Supreme Court Justices requires a majority of 7 of the 9 committee members, or two less than the number present at the meeting (6 of 8, 5 of 7, etc.).
The three organs of state—the legislative, executive, and judicial branches of government—as well as the bar association are represented in the Judges’ Nominations Committee. Thus, the shaping of the judicial body, through the manner of judicial appointment, is carried out by all the authorities together. Supreme Court Justices cannot be removed from office except by a decision of the Court of Discipline, consisting of judges appointed by the President of the Supreme Court, or upon a decision of the Judicial Selection Committee—at the proposal of the Minister of Justice or the President of the Supreme Court—with the agreement of seven of its nine members.
The following are qualified to be appointed Justice of the Supreme Court: a person who has held office as a judge of a District Court for a period of five years, or a person who is inscribed, or entitled to be inscribed, in the roll of advocates, and has for not less than ten years –continuously or intermittently, and of which five years at least in Israel – been engaged in the profession of an advocate, served in a judicial capacity or other legal function in the service of the State of Israel or other service as designated in regulations in this regard, or has taught law at a university or a higher school of learning as designated in regulations in this regard. An “eminent jurist” can also be appointed to the Supreme Court.
The number of Supreme Court justices is determined by a resolution of the Knesset. Currently, there are 15 Supreme Court Justices.
At the head of the Supreme Court and at the head of the judicial system as a whole stands the President of the Supreme Court, and at his or her side, the Deputy President. A judge’s term ends when he or she reaches 70 years of age, resigns, dies, is appointed to another position that disqualifies him or her, or is removed from office.
Miriam Naor is the 11th and current president of the Supreme Court of Israel (since 2015)
As of December 2016 the Supreme Court Justices are:
Liat Benmelech and Guy Shani serve as the Court Registrars.
Below is a list of presidents of the Supreme Court:
As an appellate court, the Supreme Court considers cases on appeal (criminal, civil, and military ) on judgments and other decisions of the District Courts. It also considers appeals on judicial and quasi-judicial decisions of various kinds, such as matters relating to the legality of Knesset elections and disciplinary rulings of the Bar Association.
High Court of Justice
As the High Court of Justice (Hebrew: בית משפט גבוה לצדק, Beit Mishpat Gavo’ah LeTzedek; also known as its acronym Bagatz, בג”ץ), the Supreme Court rules as a court of first instance, primarily in matters regarding the legality of decisions of State authorities: Government decisions, those of local authorities and other bodies and persons performing public functions under the law, and direct challenges to the constitutionality of laws enacted by the Knesset. The court has broad discretionary authority to rule on matters in which it considers it necessary to grant relief in the interests of justice, and which are not within the jurisdiction of another court or tribunal. The High Court of Justice grants relief through orders such as injunction, mandamus and Habeas Corpus, as well as through declaratory judgments.
The Supreme Court can also sit at a “further hearing” on its own judgment. In a matter on which the Supreme Court has ruled–whether as a court of appeals or as the High Court of Justice–with a panel of three or more justices, it may rule at a further hearing with a panel of a larger number of justices. A further hearing may be held if the Supreme Court makes a ruling inconsistent with a previous ruling or if the Court deems that the importance, difficulty or novelty of a ruling of the Court justifies such hearing.
The Supreme Court, both as an appellate court and the High Court of Justice, is normally constituted of a panel of three Justices. A Supreme Court Justice may rule singly on interim orders, temporary orders or petitions for an order nisi, and on appeals on interim rulings of District Courts, or on judgments given by a single District Court judge on appeal, and on a judgment or decision of the Magistrates’ Courts.
The Supreme Court sits as a panel of five justices or more in a ‘further hearing’ on a matter in which the Supreme Court sat with a panel of three justices. The Supreme Court may sit as a panel of a larger uneven number of justices than three in matters that involve fundamental legal questions and constitutional issues of particular importance.
In a case on which the President of the Supreme Court sits, the President is the Presiding Judge; in a case on which the Deputy President sits and the President does not sit, the Deputy President is the Presiding Judge; in any other case, the Judge with the greatest length of service is the Presiding Judge. The length of service, for this purpose, is calculated from the date of the appointment of the Judge to the Supreme Court.
A special power, unique to the Supreme Court, is the power to order a “retrial” on a criminal matter in which the defendant has been convicted by a final judgment. A ruling to hold a retrial may be made where the Court finds that evidence provided in the case was based upon lies or was forged; where new facts or evidence are discovered that are likely to alter the decision in the case in favor of the accused; where another has meanwhile been convicted of carrying out the same offense and it appears from the circumstances revealed in the trial of that other person that the original party convicted of the offense did not commit it; or, where there is a real concern for miscarriage of justice in the conviction. In practice, a ruling to hold a retrial is very rarely made.
The Court announces its judgments through individually signed opinions setting out the result and underlying reasoning. In general, there is a lead opinion for the majority, but there is no “opinion of the Court” as such. Each participating Justice will either note that she or he concurs in the lead opinion (and possibly another opinion as well) or write a separate concurrence. It is not unusual for most or all of the participating Justices to write separately, even when they agree as to the outcome.
The Court’s opinions are available in Hebrew on its own website and from Nevo. A relatively small subset have been translated into English. These are available in a searchable online database at Versa. They can also be found on the Court’s own site and have been published in hard copy in annual volumes by William S. Hein & Co. as the Israel Law Reports. In addition, the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in cooperation with the Court, has published three volumes of English translations of selected decisions entitled Judgments of the Israel Supreme Court: Fighting Terrorism within the Law. These are part of the Versa database and also can be found on-line at the MFA’s website.
In the 1980s and the 1990s, the Supreme Court established its role as a protector of human rights, intervening to secure freedom of speech and freedom to demonstrate, reduce military censorship, limit use of certain military methods and promote equality between various sectors of the population. However critics question the role of the court in protecting the human rights of Palestinians in the Occupied Territories and point to double standards in their application.
Supreme Court Building
View of the Supreme Court Building
An aerial photo of the Supreme Court building covered with snow
Mosaic pavement recovered from the ancient Hamat Gader synagogue
The building was donated to Israel by Dorothy de Rothschild. Outside the President’s Chamber is displayed the letter Ms Rothschild wrote to Prime Minister Shimon Peres expressing her intention to donate a new building for the Supreme Court.
It was designed by Ram Karmi and Ada Karmi-Melamede and opened in 1992.According to the critic Ran Shechori, the building is a “serious attempt to come to grips with the local building tradition”. He writes that,
Paul Goldberger of The New York Times calls it “Israel’s finest public building,” achieving “a remarkable and exhilarating balance between the concerns of daily life and the symbolism of the ages.” He notes the complexity of the design with its interrelated geometric patterns:
The building is a blend of enclosed and open spaces; old and new; lines and circles. Approaching the Supreme Court library, one enters the pyramid area, a large space that serves as a turning point before the entrance to the courtrooms. This serene space acts as the inner “gate house” of the Supreme Court building. The Pyramid was inspired by the Tomb of Zechariah and Tomb of Absalom in the Kidron Valley in Jerusalem. Natural light enters round windows at the apex of the pyramid, forming circles of sunlight on the inside walls and on the floor.
Guided tours of the building are offered most Sundays through Thursdays at 11am (in Hebrew) and 12 noon (in English). The address is Kiryat Ben-Gurion, 1 Shaare Mishpat St, Jerusalem 9195001.