The judicial system of Israel consists of secular courts and religious courts. The law courts constitute a separate and independent unit of Israel's Ministry of Justice. The system is headed by the President of the Supreme Court and the Minister of Justice.
Located in Jerusalem, the Supreme Court acts as a further appellate court, hearing both criminal and civil cases. The Supreme Court re-evaluates decisions by the lower, district courts. Sitting as the High Court of Justice, it acts as a court of first instance, often in matters concerning the legality of decisions regarding state authorities. The High Court of Justice or otherwise the Israeli Supreme Court acts sometimes not as an appellate body to the district court but as an overseer of justice against the lower courts.
The District Courts constitute the middle level courts of the judicial system, and have jurisdiction in any matter not within the sole jurisdiction of another court. In criminal matters, the courts have jurisdiction over cases where the accused faces a penalty of at least seven years imprisonment. In civil cases, they have jurisdiction over cases in which more than two and a half million shekels are in dispute. District courts also hear appeals of judgments of the magistrate courts, as well as cases involving companies and partnership, arbitration, prisoners petitions, and appeals on tax matters. Sitting as courts for administrative matters, they can hear petitions against arms of the government. One also sits as the court of admiralty, hearing all cases involving shipping commerce, accidents on the sea and the like. Most cases are heard by a single judge, though the court president can choose to appoint a three-judge panel. Cases where the accused is charged with an offense punishable by at least ten years in prison and appeals from magistrate courts are heard by three-judge panels. There are six such courts, one in each district of Israel.
The Magistrate courts serve as basic trial courts. In criminal matters, they hear cases where the accused faces up to seven years imprisonment, and in civil cases, have jurisdiction over matters up to two and a half million shekels. They also have jurisdiction over the use and possession of real property. The courts also act as traffic courts, municipal courts and family courts. Sitting as small-claims courts, they have jurisdiction over cases involving claims up to 30,000 shekels. Rather than following standard evidentiary rules, they require extensive pleadings and documentation upon filing of a formally written complaint. Verdicts are expected seven days from trial. Cases are heard by a single judge unless the court president decides to appoint a three-judge panel. There are 30 magistrate courts.
There are five Regional Labor Courts in Israel as a tribunal of first instance, and one National Labor Court in Jerusalem hearing appeals and few cases of national importance, as first tier. They are vested with exclusive jurisdiction over cases involving employer-employee relationship, pre-employment, post-employment strikes and labor union disputes, as well as labor related complaints against the National Insurance Institute, and claims under the National Health Insurance Law.
The Labor Courts Law sets forth those matters within the jurisdiction of the Labor Court. Substantially all causes of action arising from the employer-employee relationship are within the court's jurisdiction.
In civil matters, the Labor Courts are not bound by the rules of evidence. Most cases are heard by a panel of three, including a Judge, a representative on behalf of employees and a representative on behalf of employers.
In the Israel Defense Forces, a legal system separate from the civilian legal system is maintained. It is overseen by the Military Advocate General, and has a system of military courts to try soldiers for criminal offenses and deal with criminal and security cases in the Israeli-occupied territories. All three of Israel's military districts, the ground, air, and maritime branches of the military, the Home Front Command, and the General Staff have military courts. There is also a special military tribunal, naval military tribunal, and field tribunals that can be operated in times of war. The Military Court of Appeals is the supreme military court of Israel. It handles appeals from both the prosecution and defense in lower military court. In special instances, a decision of the Military Court of Appeals can be further appealed to the Supreme Court, but special permission from the Supreme Court is required, and permission is generally granted only when there is a significant legal issue.
For less serious offenses, the IDF maintains a disciplinary jurisdiction system. It is responsible for reviewing cases in which the offense is considered light, and is punished with disciplinary action, which is less serious than criminal charges.
The military courts of first instance are generally composed of a three-judge panel. The head of the panel is a professional judge with a legal education and judicial experience, while the two others are officers who serve in units based in the court's regional district and generally do not have a legal background. Hearings in the Military Court of Appeals are also presided over by three-judge panels, but at least two of the judges must have a legal background, and most judges of the Military Court of Appeals have previous experience sitting in military courts of first instance.
Israel is unusual among Common-law derived systems due to the absence of juries in its legal system. All criminal and civil trials in Israel are conducted before either one judge or, more often, a three-judge panel.
A suspect arrested in Israel is typically interrogated by police. Though police are allowed to lie to a suspect during interrogation, anyone facing police interrogation has the right to consult a lawyer beforehand, and an interrogating officer must warn a suspect that he or she does not have to say anything self-incriminating, and that anything said might be used against them in court.
Everyone accused of a criminal offense has the right to be represented by an attorney, and if the accused cannot afford a private attorney, one is assigned to them from the Public Defender's Office. Prosecutions are handled by the State Attorney's Office, which consists of a central bureau and eight regional offices.
Even if the suspect confesses to his or her crime and pleads guilty at their court arraignment, they will still receive a trial to determine the penalty to be imposed upon them. Following a verdict, the defense or prosecution has the right to appeal to a higher court. Israeli law also provides for the possibility to ask the Supreme Court for a new trial, though it is very rare to be granted a retrial. Between 1948 and 2012, only 21 criminal cases were granted a retrial, about half of which ended in reconfirmation of a defendant's guilt.
Administrative detention and closed trials are allowed in cases involving security and illegal immigration. Anyone subjected to administrative detention and a possible closed trial has the right to be represented by an attorney, and may appeal their detention to the Supreme Court. The burden of proof rests on the prosecution to prove that closed proceedings are necessary.
The vast majority of criminal cases investigated by police and considered for indictment are closed due to lack of evidence or lack of public interest. Of those cases that do go to court, over 85% end with a plea bargain. Though accepting a plea bargain is considered a de facto guilty plea, it also leads to a lighter sentence. Of the cases that do go to trial, 71.5% end with a conviction on some of the charges and acquittal on others, 21.6% with a conviction on all charges, and 0.3% with a full acquittal. Another 2.1% of cases are dismissed after the defendant is found incompetent to stand trial, 1.2% are dismissed over technicalities, and in 0.9% of cases the charges are dropped.
The military justice system operates parallel to the civilian one. Criminal investigations within the Israeli military are carried out by the Military Police Corps. The investigative branch of the Military Police Corps is an independent unit not subordinate to any military command. The authority to open a criminal investigation within the IDF rests independently with the Military Advocate General, the head of the Military Police Corps investigative branch, and the Command General, each according to their own discretion. Misdemeanors are investigated by regular IDF officers outside the Military Police, while more serious offenses are subject to Military Police investigation. Evidence gathered during a criminal investigation is transferred to the Military Advocate General's Corps, which is composed of legal officers who review the evidence and decide whether to file an indictment, transfer the case to disciplinary jurisdiction, or close the case.
Every defendant facing criminal charges in military court except those appearing for traffic offenses is entitled to legal representation. The Military Defense Council Division provides legal representation to soldiers facing criminal indictment. A soldier facing criminal charges in military court may choose to be represented by a private lawyer instead, but the private lawyer must be certified to appear before military courts.
Judges who serve on the Supreme Court, as well as the district and magistrate courts, are appointed by the Judicial Selection Committee, which consists of nine members: the Minister of Justice and another cabinet member, two Knesset members, two members of the Israel Bar Association, and the President of the Supreme Court and two other Supreme Court justices. The committee is chaired by the Minister of Justice.
The Jewish religious courts, known as Rabbinic Courts, whose dayanim ("judges") are selected by a committee headed by the Minister of Justice, have jurisdiction regarding marital issues of Jews (especially divorce). Divorce of a Jewish couple can only be obtained at the Rabbinical Batei Din. However, if a petition for ancillary matrimonial reliefs, such as custody, support or equitable distribution of property is filed with the Civil Courts before a case for divorce is opened at the Batei Din, then all other marital issues may also be taken by Magistrate Courts sitting as Family Courts. Otherwise, if one spouse opens some sort of an action with the Batei Din, (including asking the couple for reconciliation), the Batei Din assume that all ancillary relief is aggregated into the main complaint, and the spouses may find themselves facing judicial determination pursuant to Halakha (Jewish religious law), and not pursuant to the secular law. Thus, spouses may lose the equal protection and anti gender discrimination protections of the secular civil law.
The Rabbinic Courts also have control over marriages, conversions to Judaism and appointment of rabbinic positions around the country. Since the Chief Rabbinate are controlled by the ultra-Orthodox sects, other streams such as the Reform and Conservative streams are isolated from official positions. There is also a struggle within the Orthodox world to allow more rabbis to perform marriages and to allow alternative views.
The Supreme Rabbinic Court acts as the court of last resort for cases brought before the rabbinic courts.
The Muslim, legally recognized Christian communities, and Druze have their own religious courts which have similar jurisdiction over their followers, although Muslim religious courts have more control over family affairs. They are supervised by their own official religious establishments (although the Muslim and Druze kaddis judges are also elected by the Knesset). This is the maintenance of an agreement reached with the British Mandatory Authorities before the State of Israel's establishment in 1948.
The ten recognized Christian communities are the Greek Orthodox, Latin Catholic, Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Catholic, Chaldean Catholic, Melkite Greek Catholic, Maronite, Syriac Orthodox and Evangelical Episcopalian communities.
All lawyers in Israel must receive a license to practice law and be admitted to the Israel Bar Association to practice law. To practice law, a lawyer must go through a three-step process. They must first obtain a law degree from an educational institution recognized by the Law Faculty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, or alternatively, those moving to Israel and not holding a law degree from a recognized institution in Israel must have at least two years' practical experience as an attorney or judge in their country of origin. They then must take a Hebrew proficiency examination and examinations on eight separate areas of law: obligations and labor law, property law, family and succession law, criminal law and procedure, civil procedure and professional ethics, constitutional and administration law, commercial law on corporations, partnerships, and other associations, and commercial law on bankruptcy, liquidations, bills, exchange, and tax law.
After passing these exams, candidates must serve as an articled clerk of twelve months, at least 36 hours a week, 25 of which must be worked before 2:00 PM on that day. After serving their articles, candidates must pass the final examinations, which consist of a written examination and an oral examination before three judges. Candidates who arrived from abroad, have at least five years of professional legal experience, and began their articles within ten years of arriving in Israel, are exempt from the final examinations. The final examinations deal with court procedure, procedure for registering land rights in real estate, procedure for registering corporations, partnerships, and liquidations, interpretation of laws and judicial documents, professional ethics, evidence, and recent changes in case law and legislation. Those who pass the written examination may take the oral examination. If they pass, they are admitted to the Israel Bar Association and given licenses to practice law.
As of 2012, there are 52,142 active lawyers in Israel, making it the country with the highest number of active lawyers per capita in the world. Law schools produce new graduates at the rate of 2,000 new lawyers a year. This creates a tight and highly competitive market.
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