When Is Judicial Reform Anti-Democratic?

When Is Judicial Reform Anti-Democratic?
Protestor holds a placard during a protest against the government's judicial reform plan, Feb 11, 2023 (SOPA Images/Sipa USA photo by Eyal Warshavsky via AP Images).

The recent protests that erupted across Israel in opposition to a proposed “judicial reform” put the spotlight on an issue of increasing prominence in recent years: the politicization of the judiciary. In seeking to control the composition of the country’s Supreme Court, among other measures that would increase its influence over the courts, the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was following a trend.

In recent years, democratically elected governments around the world have increasingly dismantled checks and balances to undermine judicial independence. Governments that seek to capture and instrumentalize judiciaries use a range of formal and informal methods to increase political influence over them. While the nature, degree and effects of the politicization of judiciaries vary across countries, these efforts often involve strengthening the government’s control over the bodies that make judicial appointments and regulate disciplinary procedures, with the ultimate goal of weakening courts or instrumentalizing them. 

Often, as in Poland and Hungary, the ruling parties have adopted laws in a rushed fashion and without proper public consultation. In both cases, these reforms were also fragmented and incremental. Their systemic nature and overall negative effects on judicial independence only became visible over time.

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