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Valid complaints against Israeli judges see spike in improper behavior

CM 28/07/2021

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Out of the 11% of complaints against judges in 2020 which Ombudsman for Judicial Complaints Uri Shoham found to be valid, 33% related to improper behavior, a significant spike compared to past years, an annual report said Wednesday.

The review took place against the backdrop of the coronavirus era, which the report described as an unprecedented challenge both for its office to complete the report and for the judicial branch itself, which was closed or had reduced operations for significant periods.
In 2019, the ombudsman found that only 21% of the complaints against judges found to be valid were categorized as relating to improper behavior.
Shoham, a former Supreme Court justice, said he specifically flagged the issue for the judicial branch to pay special attention to.  
Besides that statistic, the report showed a slightly reduced total number of complaints compared to 2019 and improvement in some categories.

In 2019, there were 965 complaints whereas there were only 926 complaints in 2020 – though this number was still higher than numbers earlier in the decade.
It was unclear whether trends regarding total volume of complaints were impacted the most by easier access to file complaints generally, better or worse judicial conduct or unique attributes to the coronavirus-dominated year.
According to the report, the office completed full substantive evaluations and decisions of 548 complaints in 2020, making up 60% of the total decisions made.
Other decisions could have been made with only a preliminary review of the facts being necessary.
Twenty percent of the complaints, or 108 complaints, were found either to be completely valid or to require a minor level negative citation of a judge’s conduct, even if the broader substance of the complaint was rejected.
Only 20% of complaints found to be valid related to the dragging out of judicial hearings and final decisions as opposed to 38% in the prior report, showing a significant improvement in that area.
The other categories of complaints found to be valid showed only minor changes.
Thirty percent of valid complaints related to judicial management as opposed to 26% in 2019.
In addition, 17% of valid complaints related to a general harm to natural justice as opposed to 15% in 2019.
Despite the corona challenge, the report stated that the Ombudsman’s office succeeded in reducing the amount of time it had taken to address and decide complaints from an average of 59 days in 2019 and 83 days in 2018, to only 54 days in 2020.
The report flagged a noticeable rise in complaints against family court judges from 130 in 2018 to 184 in 2019 and to 193 in 2020.
A statement said that this issue was highlighted for the judicial branch in order to give it special attention.
Another issue discussed by the report was media access to hearings under corona restrictions.
According to the report, some judges improperly restricted the number of persons that could be present in their courtroom without properly working out a method for the media to cover certain cases.
While some judicial errors were limited to the specific complaint, some reflected system wide failures and the ombudsman highlighted these for the judicial branch.
In one of the most glaring errors, a judge and transcript reported that a defendant was present in court at a hearing in which a plea bargain, conviction and sentence were handed down, though later it was clear that the defendant had not been present.
The report implied that this was not a one-time phenomenon and that the potential harm was so great both to the individual and the court’s image, that the judicial branch should issue new stricter regulations for identifying a defendant as being present to avoid a recurrence.
Shoham delivered his report to Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar at 4:00 p.m. on Wednesday.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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