The State of Israel has been ruled by a parliamentary democracy since its inception in 1948. Its legal system subscribes to a separation of powers between three arms, namely the parliament or Knesset, the executive, and the judiciary. The judiciary is meant to function independently of the other two branches and is necessary to maintain checks and balances on the Knesset and the executive.
The Israeli Court system
There are three main tiers in the court system in Israel. The Magistrates’ Courts occupy the lowest tier, followed by the District Courts and finally by the highest court in the court hierarchy, the Supreme Court. There are also courts dedicated to specific types of subject matter, such as the Labor Courts, the Religious Courts and the Military Courts.
For judicial purposes, Israel is segmented into five districts, namely Jerusalem, Tel-Aviv, Haifa, Beer-Sheva, and Nazareth. The Magistrates’ Courts and District Courts are granted jurisdiction in the districts in which they are located. The Supreme Court has jurisdiction over the entire State of Israel. Matters that cannot be allocated to any of the jurisdictions will be heard by default in the District Court of Jerusalem.
Magistrates’ Courts in Israel
The Magistrates’ Courts serve as courts of the first instance, and can hear civil claims of up to one million shekels, and criminal claims where the maximum sentence is seven years imprisonment. The Magistrates’ Courts also hear traffic, family, property, and municipal matters.
The Magistrates’ Courts also handle small claims of up to 30,000 shekels. As a small-claims court, the Magistrates’ Court requires that a formal complaint be filed in writing and uses its own system of pleadings and evidence separate from the usual rules of evidence practiced in other matters.
District Courts in Israel
The District Courts have jurisdiction over matters that the Magistrates’ Courts do not have the authority to hear. The District Courts can handle civil matters involving claims of more than one million shekels, and criminal matters where the maximum sentence exceeds seven years. Matters heard in the District Courts can be appealed in the Supreme Court.
District Courts also have jurisdiction over company or partnership disputes, arbitration, tax appeals, and prisoners’ petitions.
The Supreme Court functions as a court of appeal for civil and criminal matters heard in the District Courts. Other matters may only appealed in the Supreme Court if leave is granted to do so.
The Supreme Court also hears appeals related to Knesset elections, decisions made by the Civil Service Commission, administrative matters pertaining to detentions, decisions made by the Israel Bar Association and appeals on prisoners’ petitions.
The Supreme Court functions as the High Court of Justice in certain matters. Judicial review, or the review of the legislative and executive arms of government, may be exercised by the High Court of Justice, and it may also exercise its powers where it would be just to do so and where no other court has the jurisdiction to handle a particular matter. The High Court of Justice also has other powers including the freeing of wrongfully imprisoned persons and passing down binding orders to state and local governments.