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Case burden on courts ‘unparalleled,’ says Courts Administration director

The case burden on Israeli judges “has no parallel in the world,” the director of the Israel Courts Administration said, pointing to recent figures showing the number of cases being opened every year increasing year on year.

According to Judge Michael Spitzer, Israel has nearly three times fewer judges per capita than the average in the European Union, although it has more than four times as many lawyers.

At the same time, twice as many civil cases are opened per capita in Israel than the average in Europe, and more than one and a half times more criminal cases.

The upshot of this situation is that every judge in Israel, numbering just 788 at present, is given some 1,000 new cases every year to deal with.

“This is a figure that has no equal in the countries of the world in terms of the workload imposed on Israeli judges,” wrote Spitzer in a letter recently sent to Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara and seen by The Times of Israel.

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“Without filling vacancies in the system due to the retirement of judges and registrars, the cases and tasks of the retiring judges and registrars are divided between the serving ones, which naturally increases the burden on them,” said Spitzer.

Director of the Israel’s Courts Administration Judge Michael Spitzer attends a Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice, Committee meeting, March 5, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Judicial Selection Committee has not been convened since April 2022. Levin has admitted that he was not planning to convene it until he could get legislation passed that would allow the coalition to take control of the appointments process.

Petitions to the High Court against his position argue that this is an abuse of power and violates his obligation to exercise his authority in due time, a position that the attorney general backed in her response to the court.

According the court’s administration, there are currently 808 judgeships on all the courts in Israel, of which 788 are filled, meaning 20 positions are unfilled.

By the end of 2023, retiring judges will bring the total number of vacancies to 42. At the same time, the 2023 state budget provided funds for 11 new positions on the court benches, which are also yet to be filled, meaning that by the end of the year there will be 53 unfilled judgeships.

In 2024, new positions created by additional funds in the annual budget plus retiring judges will create another 62 positions on the court benches to fill, for a total of 115 by the end of next year.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin speaking from the Knesset plenum podium, February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Spitzer also cited a 2022 document produced by the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ), an institution of the Council of Europe, which evaluated the judicial systems of 46 European countries, and three observer states including Israel, with data from 2020.

According to the document, Israel has 7.8 judges per 100,000 inhabitants compared to a European average of 22.2 judges.

In Israel, 4.5 civil cases were filed per 100,000 inhabitants in 2020, compared to an average of 2.2 in Europe. And 4.68 criminal cases were filed per 100,000 inhabitants in Israel in the same year, compared to 2.72 in Europe.

The caseload on the courts is also heavy, and continuously rising. In 2008, a total of 665,245 new cases were filed. By 2022 the number had risen to 861,338.

Spitzer noted that in 2022, 2.7 million motions were filed in the context of those cases, and one million hearings were held, not including hearings in the Supreme Court.

He also noted that aside from the caseload, there has been a sharp rise in the number of “mega-cases” which are especially complex, have large numbers of witnesses and defendents, and require large amounts of time and resources to deal with.

View of the Jerusalem District Court on January 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“The handling of all these cases falls on the shoulders of just 788 judges and 73 registrars,” wrote Spitzer, pointing to the thousand new cases each judge receives every year.

The attorney general cited the figures presented by Spitzer in her response to the petitions against Levin, arguing that the large number of vacancies on the court and the heavy burden of cases on the current judges buttress the legal claims that the justice minister is obligated to convene the Judicial Selection Committee and make appointments to the court benches.

Levin has yet to submit his response to these arguments.