Hundreds of Israeli lawyers march against plans to overhaul judicial system

The chief justice of Israel's Supreme Court condemned the sweeping changes to the country’s justice system planned by the new conservative government on Thursday, lending her voice to a growing outcry against the proposed overhaul.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's new government unveiled its plan last week, proposing changes that critics say will weaken the country's judiciary and damage its democratic system of checks and balances.

Activists have said that Justice minister, Yariv Levin's move will weaken the Supreme Court, politicise the appointment of judges and reduce the independence of government legal advisors.

They are concerned that the legal changes could help Netanyahu, who is on trial for corruption, evade conviction, or even make his trial disappear entirely.

Since being indicted in 2019, Netanyahu has railed publicly against the justice system, calling it biased against him. He says the legal overhaul will be carried out responsibly.

“Israel will soon mark 75 years of independence as a Jewish and democratic state. That is an important milestone in the life of the state," Esther Hayut, the President of Israel's Supreme Court, told a convention for the Israeli Association of Public Law.

"Unfortunately, if the plan for change that has been presented is carried out, the 75th year will be remembered as the year in which Israel’s democratic identity suffered a fatal blow” Hayut added.

Hayut said that independence is the “soul of the courts” and without it, judges won’t be able to fulfil their roles as servants of the public.

She took aim at a proposal that would allow the parliament to override Supreme Court decisions with a simple majority.

For decades in Israel, the judiciary has played a key role in safeguarding minority rights and offsetting rule by the parliamentary majority.

“It is about overriding the human rights of each and every individual in Israeli society,” local media quoted Hayut as saying.

The announced judicial changes have spurred a surge of resistance. Seven former attorney generals who have served in the post throughout the last five decades also spoke out against the overhaul on Thursday, signing a letter of protest along with four senior legal officials.

The plan has prompted an uproar over what critics say is a major threat to Israel's democratic fundamentals.

The country's current attorney general, Gali Baharav-Miara, has already fiercely criticised the proposed changes and a protest against them last week drew thousands of people.

But the government said the overhaul is a necessary step to streamline governance and correct an imbalance that has granted the legal system too much sway.