Judiciary of Israel

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.[1]

Religious courts include Jewish batei din, Muslim and Druze courts, and courts for ten recognized Christian communities.[2]

Criminal and civil courts

Supreme Court

Located in Jerusalem, the Supreme Court[3] has ultimate appellate jurisdiction over all other civil and military courts, and in some cases original jurisdiction in criminal and civil cases. As an appellate court, it considers appeals on judgement and other decisions by the district courts, and in rare cases it takes appeals from the labor and military court systems. It also considers appeals on a judicial and quasi-judicial cases of various kinds, such as matters relating to the legality of Knesset elections and disciplinary rulings of the Bar Association. 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.

District courts

Tel Aviv District Court

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.[4] 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,[5] one in each district of Israel.

Magistrate courts

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 have jurisdiction over the use and possession of real property. The courts also act as traffic courts, municipal courts and family courts.[4] 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.[5]

Labor courts

National Labor Court, Jerusalem

There are five Regional Labor Courts in Israel acting as tribunals of first instance, and a National Labor Court in Jerusalem which hears appeals from the regional courts, as well as a few cases of national importance as a court of first instance. In rare instances, a ruling from the National Labor Court can be further appealed to the Supreme Court. 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.

Military courts

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, and field tribunals can be set up 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 courts. 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.

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.[6]

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.