Israel is currently discussing the Compulsory Arbitration Bill. The bill, filed earlier this year by the government, would empower magistrate’s court presidents and their deputies to refer litigants to private arbitrators, without the consent of the parties. Arbitrators would be former district court judges, and either side would be able to appeal against their rulings.
The government says the bill is a temporary solution that would remain in force for five years in order to solve the serious backlog faced by the courts. According to Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, most of these cases involve “weak citizens” who have turned to the courts for justice against large and powerful organizations.
However, rights groups have slammed the bill, arguing it is both unconstitutional and stands to damage public trust in the legal system. Lawyers and academics have also expressed concerns the bill amounts to privatizing the judicial system. Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch criticized the bill as “problematic”, saying that “The rules of ethics that apply to judges don’t apply to arbitrators, who are not subject to the same system of norms that ensure conflicts of interest are avoided”. Beinisch said the main problem with the bill is it may, in practice, permit the privatization of legal services and erode citizens’ rights to access the courts. Read more on The Jerusalem Post.
This bill raises several questions concerning the voluntary nature of arbitration and the basic right of access to justice. Compulsory arbitration is an exception which makes sense in some very specific fields of law, and should not be used just as a way of cleaning out courts. Arbitration should be encouraged due to its advantages and benefits, not merely for statistical and financial reasons.