On March 18.3.2020, ACRI petitioned the High Court of Justice demanding a court ruling to revoke the Minister of Justice’s declaration of a state of emergency within the judicial system, essentially freezing all court activity outside of the High Court. ACRI also sought a court ruling deeming regulations that authorize the Minister to declare a state of emergency illegal.
Since 1991, the Minister of Justice has been authorized to declare a state of emergency in “situations wherein normal living conditions have been disrupted in all or part of the State, due to the security situation.” In subsequent years, there has been minimal use of these regulations, with limits on both the duration of the declared state of emergency, as well as the geographic areas of instances involving the security situation on either the northern or southern borders. This is in contrast to the current circumstances, wherein a sweeping state of emergency has been declared in every courtroom across the country due to the spread of the Coronavirus.
The petition claims that this arrangement is extremely unreasonable, and would likely not have been legislated were it to be considered in Knesset. The definition of a “state of emergency” is ambiguous and broad, and no mechanism has been developed to require the Minister to consult with others to come to a conclusion on the existence of either a security or public health emergency. According to the petition, despite the Justice Minister’s claims that the declaration was approved by the heads of the judicial system, three hours prior to the declaration, the Deputy Director of the judicial system distributed guidelines to all courts, requiring all judicial authorities to continue to operate, even during emergencies. Additionally, the Deputy Director General of the Ministry of Health noted that they are of the position that parliamentary and judicial systems must continue operating, as they are indeed essential services.
ACRI’s petition posits that the nature of the judicial system’s activity during a crisis and other states of emergency is a constitutional issue of the highest order, and that such an issue must be regulated via Knesset legislation. It was further claimed that this response is extreme and unusual; that it could completely paralyze the judicial system; and that there must be a system of checks and balances, restrictions, and delineated boundaries, to prevent ministers from abusing the power granted to them.
In a hearing at the High Court of Justice on 2.4.2020, the justices proposed that the Ministry of Justice consider authorizing the Knesset’s legislative power in place of the regulations issued by the Minister of Justice. In light of the Minister of Justice’s agreement to this proposal, ACRI’s petition was dismissed, and the High Court of Justice emphasized ACRI’s capacity to appeal any renewed and disproportionate use of these regulations.