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High Court rejects government request for delay of hearing on reasonableness law

The High Court of Justice on Tuesday rejected the government’s request to push back the date for a crucial hearing on the reasonableness law, the centerpiece legislation so far of the government’s judicial overhaul agenda.

The court said that since all 15 justices are hearing the case, the resulting “scheduling pressure” means it cannot agree to the request. The landmark hearing will thus be held on September 12, as planned.

The court did, however, grant the government an extension to file its response to the petitions and set Friday as the new deadline for this.

Ilan Bombach, who is representing the government since Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara does not support its position, had requested the extension since he said it was impossible to respond to her lengthy filing in the few days remaining before the hearing.

He added that there was no reason the hearing could not be delayed by a month or more.

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The law that was petitioned against prohibits the courts from reviewing government action using the judicial standard of reasonableness, whereby it can determine that a decision was invalid because it was made without properly assessing key considerations, or while using improper considerations.

The petitioners against the law argue that it could potentially undermine the independence of senior law enforcement agencies, since without the reasonableness standard it will be difficult to challenge arbitrary dismissals of officials.

Left: Justice Minister Yariv Levin speaks during a Constitution, Law and Justice Committee meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, January 11, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90); Right: Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara attends a conference at the University of Haifa, December 15, 2022. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

Baharav-Miara has refused to represent the government in the case, and in her submission to the court on Sunday she called on the justices to strike down the law, claiming it undermined Israel’s democratic character. Such a move would be unprecedented for the court, which has so far balked at revoking amendments to the country’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.

Ministers and coalition MKs have argued that the law is necessary to stop the High Court from asserting its own worldview on government decisions and actions, and have said that the dismissal of senior law enforcement officials will still be subject to other tools in administrative law.

The law is the only component of the coalition’s broader judicial overhaul program that has been passed by the Knesset. Like other parts of the radical reform agenda, it has faced massive and intense opposition from protest groups and opposition parties.

Baharav-Miara has taken positions against the coalition on several high-profile issues, a situation that has generated severe tension between her and the government and calls by several ministers for her to be fired.

On Monday, she insisted that Justice Minister Yariv Levin is obliged to convene the Judicial Selection Committee, responding to High Court petitions against his refusal to do so as he seeks to first change the panel’s composition in order to give the government control over judicial appointments.

The court later Monday granted Levin’s request to postpone the hearing to September 19 from this Thursday. Levin has until September 10 to file his response to those petitions.