Much of the nation’s legal system is derived from the two powers that ruled the country prior to its independence: the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate. Since its foundation on May 14, 1948, however, Israel has adopted new legislation that replaced most of the laws borrowed from those powers. Today, Israel can boast its own modern and independent legal system. Israel has no written constitution, but several Basic Laws that enjoy judicial supremacy have been enacted, and together with Israel's Declaration of Independence, they form the basis for Israeli constitutional law.
The judiciary enjoys independence from the executive and legislative branches of government. Judges are nominated by the Judicial Appointments Committee and are confirmed by the President.
The court system consists of three tiers: Magistrates Courts, which are located in most sizable communities throughout the country; five District Courts, located in Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, Beer Sheva, Haifa and Nazareth; and the Supreme Court, which resides in Jerusalem. In addition to the aforementioned courts, there are several specialized courts, including the traffic courts, juvenile courts, labor tribunals, family courts and the religious courts. The latter mostly deal with personal status issues (i.e., marriage and divorce). If, however, both litigants consent, any civil claim may be brought before the religious courts.
The Magistrates Courts have jurisdiction over both criminal and civil cases. This jurisdiction is restricted, however, with certain statutory exceptions, to criminal cases for which the maximum punishment is a fine or imprisonment for less than seven years, and to civil claims unrelated to real property (except for issues of possession or use) or that do not exceed the amount of approximately US$ 285,000. Cross-claims in civil cases, which arise from the same circumstances as a claim that is being tried before the Magistrates Courts, may be heard in the Magistrates Courts regardless of value.
Any judgment of the Magistrates Courts may be appealed before the District Courts. Interim decisions of the Magistrates Courts on civil matters, however, may only be appealed to the District Courts subject to a leave by the Magistrates Court or by a District Court judge.
The District Court has residual jurisdiction, hence it may hear any civil or criminal case that is not under the jurisdiction of the Magistrates Courts or under the exclusive jurisdiction of another tribunal. The District Court also serves as a court of appeal on judgments of the Magistrates Courts.
Similar to the Magistrates Courts, one judge ordinarily hears matters brought before the District Courts. Criminal cases in which the penalty is death or imprisonment of ten years or more and civil appeals from lower instances and other tribunals, however, are heard by a tribunal, except for interim decisions and orders or temporary injunctions.
Judgments of the District Court as a court of first instance may be appealed to the Supreme Court. Other decisions of the District Courts in civil cases, and judgments of the District Courts in appeals, may be appealed to the Supreme Court by leave of the District Court or the Supreme Court.
The Supreme Court sits in two capacities. First, it sits as the highest court of appeal in both civil and criminal cases. Second, it sits as the High Court of Justice deciding on matters concerning administrative law and conflicts with the government, as well as petitions for equitable writs such as habeas corpus, mandamus and certiorari.
The Supreme Court ordinarily sits as a panel of three judges; however, in certain circumstances the President of the Supreme Court may decide that a greater odd number of judges is necessary and may increase the number to as many as 13 judges. In other situations, a single residing judge may grant motions for temporary injunctions and other interim relief or hear appeals on judgments of the District Court that were decided by a single judge.
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)