Introduction to Israel’s Legal System
The State of Israel is a parliamentary democracy. A single general election is held every four years and results in the constitution of a coalition government headed by the Prime Minister, usually the head of the political party that won most seats in the 120 Member Knesset (Parliament), who was able to establish a coalition government.
Unlike the Prime Minister, the President of the State has mainly ceremonial status as the head of state and is elected by the Knesset for a seven year term which cannot be extended.
The legal system incorporates elements from both common law and civil law, initially deriving from the pre State Ottoman Empire era as later changed by British Mandatory government legislation and English principles of common law and equity, and then replaced by new independent Knesset legislation and decisions of the Supreme Court.
Hierarchy of Law
Israel does not have one single-document written constitution. Eleven Basic Laws (external link) intended to be incorporated into a future constitution have been passed. According to judicial interpretation, two of them, Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom and Basic Law: Freedom of Occupation, enjoy a higher normative status. Except for these two Basic laws, legislation passed by the Knesset holds the highest normative status. While the Knesset (Parliament) passes laws, the executive branch, composed of government ministers, is authorized to pass subsidiary legislation (regulations) to implement primary legislation.
The Israeli judiciary enjoys wide judicial discretion and judicial power to create case law. According to the principle of stare decisis as practiced in Israel, a rule laid down by a court will guide any lower court, and the Supreme Court is not bound by its own decisions.
The Israeli court system is composed of a general court system and a number of specialized courts. The independence of the judiciary is guaranteed under Basic Law: Judicature.
The State of Israel: The Judiciary Authority Web Site
(in Hebrew (external link))
(in English (external link) - more limited)
I. The General Court System
The general court system is comprised of three types: magistrates' courts, district courts, and the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court is the highest court of appeal. It also has original authority to adjudicate all administrative matters excluding those specifically assigned to the district courts in accordance with the Administrative Matters’ Courts Law, 5760-2000.
District courts enjoy residual jurisdiction over all criminal and civil matters that do not fall within the jurisdiction of the magistrates’ courts, and any matter that is not under the exclusive jurisdiction of any other court or tribunal.
Magistrates’ courts have original jurisdiction in criminal matters over most offenses carrying a maximum punishment of seven years. The jurisdiction of magistrates’ courts in civil matters generally depends upon the monetary value of the claim. Certain magistrates’ courts may be authorized by a decree to serve as special tribunals, such as a family court or juvenile court.
II. Special Courts
Special courts include the labor courts, the traffic courts, the military courts, and the religious courts. Decisions of the appellate tribunals of these courts are subject to a limited review by the Supreme Court sitting as a high court of justice.
The Labor Court system
The Labor Court system consists of regional courts and the National Court. A regional court has jurisdiction over matters concerning labor and employment relations, actions in tort concerning labor law, specific collective agreements, and benefit funds, memberships in labor organizations, certain social security matters, and labor-related offenses. The National Labor Court has exclusive jurisdiction over matters arising from general collective agreements, disputes between labor organizations, and appeals as of right on decisions of the regional courts.
The Military Courts
The military courts are geographically divided into six geographical districts. They consist of District Court Martial, Naval Court Martial, Field Court Martial, Special Court Martial and Traffic Court Martial. The decisions of all the courts are subject to review by appeal to the Appeals Court Martial.
Personal jurisdiction for the courts martial extends to all military personnel and prisoners of war. Substantive jurisdiction extends to all military offenses. In addition, there are Courts Martial in the Occupied Territories under orders of the Military Commander of the Territories and the Courts Martial under the Defense (Emergency) Regulations 1945.
The Religiouns Court System
The religious court system was established mainly by the Palestine Order-in-Council 1922-1947, sections 47, 51-56. Following the establishment of the State of Israel, specific laws were enacted for some of the recognized religious communities including the Moslems, the Druze, the Jews, and the Christian communities. The religious court system is financed by the State and is generally restricted to matters of marriage and divorce. Read more (external link)
For an introduction to Israeli law, the following works may be consulted:
- The History of Law in Multi- Cultural Society, Israel 1917-1967. Edited by R. Harris, A. Kedar, P. Lahav & A. Likhovski (Ashgate Dartmouth Publishing Co. Ltd., 2002). KMK120.H58 2002
- Introduction to the Law of Israel. Edited by A. Shapira & K. DeWitt-Arar (Kluwer Law International, 1995). KMK 68.I58 1995
- The Law of Israel: General Surveys. Edited by I. Zamir & S. Colombo (Jerusalem, 1995). KMK 74.L39 1995
- Israel Among the Nations (Kluwer Law International, The Hague, The Netherlands, 1998). KMK 746.I85 1998
- M. Rabello European Legal Traditions and Israel (Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 1994). K623.29 E87 1994
- Bin-Nun, The Law of the State of Israel, An Introduction (Jerusalem, 1990). LAW ISRAEL 7 Bin-N 1990
Official Statutory and Regulatory Sources
Sources in Hebrew
The Official Journal (Rashumot) is the main source for all legislative and administrative actions and includes the following parts:
- SEFER HA-HUKIM [Book of Laws] 1949- . KMK13 .I87
- DINE MEDINAT YISRAEL, Nusah Hadash [Laws of the State of Israel (New Version)]
Jerusalem, Government Printing Office, 1954- . The revised and Updated Hebrew Text of Legislation Enacted before the Establishment of the State];
- HATSAOT HOK [Bills]. Jerusalem, Government Printing Office. 1948- . KMK9 .I87
In 1993 Hatsaot hok was divided into the two following series:
- HATSAOT HOK HAKNESSET [Bills submitted by Knesset Members and Committees]. Jerusalem, Government Printing Office; and
- HATSAOT HOK HAMEMSHALA [Bills submitted by the Government]. Jerusalem, Government Printing Office.
Additional Rashumot publications are:
- KOVETS HATAKANOT [Subsidiary Legislation]. Jerusalem, Government Printing Office. 1948-.
- KOVETS HATAKANOT HIKUKE SHILTON MEKOMI [Subsidiary Legislation of Local Administration]. Jerusalem, Government Printing Office.
- KOVETS HATAKANOT: SHIURE MEKHES, MAS KENIYAH VE- TASHLUM HALVAH [Subsidiary Legislation: Import Taxes and Others]. Jerusalem, Government Printing Office.
- YALKUT HA-PIRSUMIM [Government Notices]. Jerusalem, Government Printing Office. KMK7 .I875
- YOMAN SIMANE MISCHAR [Trademark Journal]
- YOMAN HAPATENTIM VE-HAMIDGAMIM [Journal of Patents and Designs]
- KITVEI- AMANAH [Treaty Series] [in Hebrew and relevant language]. KZ906.A58 I87
This official publication includes all treaties to which Israel is a party.
In addition, the government publishes:
- DIVRE HAKNESSET [Parliamentary debates]. Jerusalem, Government Printing Office, 1948.
Sources in English
Most primary laws are available in English, in authorized translations by the Ministry of Justice. They are published in:
- LAWS OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL. Authorized English translation of Israeli legislation, Jerusalem, Government Printing Office. KMK 13 .I8713 1948- This publication includes most, but not all, laws and amendments. Latest volume published is 1986/87. v. 1- ; 1948- .
Official Case Reports (in Hebrew)
Until 1999 the Israel Bar Association published the following:
- PISKE DIN SHEL BET HAMISHPAT HAELYON [Decisions of the Israeli Supreme Court]. Jerusalem, the Israeli Bar, 1948- . KMK18.A2 I87
- PESAḲIM SHEL BATE HA-MISHPAṬ HA-MEḤOZIYIM BE-YIŚRAEL [Decisions of the District Courts]. Tel Aviv, The Israeli Bar, 1948- . KMK20.A2, P47
- PISKE DIN AVODA [Decisions of the Labor Courts] LAW ISRAEL 6 Labor.
Since 1999 Nevo Press Ltd. has been licensed to publish general and labor court decisions.
The Institute for Social Security publishes its tribunals' decisions in:
- PISKE DIN HA-MOSAD LE-BITUAH LE'UMI [Decisions of Social Security Tribunals]. Jerusalem, The Institute for Social Security, 1966-
- PISKEI DIN NIVHARIM SHEL BET HADIN HAZVAI L’IRURIM
- SELECTED JUDGMENTS OF THE MILITARY COURT OF APPEALS  .2 v. KMK3395 .A49 1998
- SELECTED JUDGMENTS OF THE SUPREME COURT
Includes a few selected decisions that had great impact on the Israeli legal system and its constitutional law (Israeli Bar: Tel Aviv). KMK18.A2 I854
- ISRAEL LAW REPORTS
This is in effect a continuation of the above title. Published by Nevo Press Ltd (latest volume 2002-2003); and by William S. Hein & Co., Inc. (2004-). KMK18.A2 I85
- JUDGMENT OF THE ISRAEL SUPREME COURT: FIGHTING TERRORISM WITHIN THE LAW.
Includes an article by the retired President of the Israel Supreme Court titled [t]he Supreme Court and the Problem of Terrorism, a selection of decisions of the Supreme Court on interrogation of terrorism suspects, house demolitions, warfare and humanitarian matters, detention, assigned residence, and the erection of the barrier in the West Bank. Published by Israel Supreme Court. KMK 4352 A49 2004
Ruth Levush, Israeli Law Guide, Law and Technology Resources for Legal Professionals (external link), (November 2007). This comprehensive guide provides an overview of the country's legal system along with its chief characteristics, documents the court system and structure, the legal profession, official and unofficial statutory and regulatory sources, major compilations, case reports, legal commentaries, law journals and legal databases.
Official Web Sites
There are numerous Web sites with information on Israeli law. All Israeli government institutions and ministries maintain Web sites with relevant information on their services both in Hebrew and in English. Hebrew sites are usually more comprehensive than those in English. The following are examples of useful sites.
Israel Government Portal (external link)
Provides links to all government ministries, authorities and institutions including Israel Antiquities Authority; The Israel Antitrust Authority; Bank of Israel; Central Bureau of Statistics; Israeli Department of Customs and VAT; Israel Export & International Cooperation; The Knesset; The President of Israel; Estate Comptroller and Ombudsman; Israel Securities Authority; and The National Insurance Institute.
The Knesset (Parliament) (external link)
Includes, among others, information on the Knesset, broadcasts from the Knesset, Knesset agenda laws, statistical reports, coalition agreements, parliamentary and committees’ debates. The Knesset Institute for Research and Information posts research reports and other information on this site. The English site provides information on the Israeli government system, the text of the Proclamation of Independence, and of Basic Laws.
The Judicial Authority (external link)
This is the official Web site of the court system. The Hebrew site includes decisions of the Supreme Court, military courts, and useful information for practicing attorneys. The English site includes general information about the judicial authority, appointment of judges, and summaries of selected court decisions.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs (external link)
The Law page includes the English text of Basic laws, selected laws, and legal issues and rulings. The site provides Basic information about Israel and its people, comprehensive material on the Israeli government and its policies, and special updates and documents related to the Peace Process.
The Prime Minister’s (PM) Office (external link)
Available also in Hebrew and in Arabic; provides press releases, current events, PM’s speeches and links to other government offices’ sites.
The Rabbinical Courts (external link)
Provides a list of the Rabbinical courts in Israel and their contact information, information about files, databases and public access.
Commercial Legal Databases
Several online legal data bases are available for subscribers.
The Nevo legal database (external link) is a comprehensive online legal database and is maintained by Nevo Press Ltd., which has exclusive distribution rights to publish the official text of court decisions. In addition to officially published court decisions from all courts, the database includes decisions not published officially, summaries and history of cases from first instance to appeal posted within one hour after delivered, summaries of decisions, full text of books, and law periodicals. The database includes up-to-date full text of primary and subsidiary legislation and historical chronology of amendments. The text of some international treaties is also provided. Subscription to the database also entitles the subscribers to a daily legal news brief summarizing newly passed bills and significant court decisions.
Additional useful legal databases include:
Other Useful Internet Sites
The Israel Bar Association (English (external link)) (Hebrew (external link))
The English section contains general information about the Israel Bar Association, admission requirements to the bar, and articles and opinions.
Israel Democracy Institute (external link)
The IDI is a non-profit organization designed to promote structural reforms, both political and economic. It constitutes a source of information and comparative research for use by the Knesset and government agencies, and serves as an educational entity for decision makers and the general public. Some of the IDI publications are available on the Web and provide information on current legislative action.
Law Library of Congress Guide to Law Online (external link)
The Guide to Law Online provides an annotated hypertext guide to internet sources on Israeli law and related information.
Lexis (external link)
Although Lexis does not have the full text of Israeli legal sources, reference or analysis may be found in foreign law review periodicals. The News file is also useful for current materials, which then can be further checked.
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Last Updated: 08/07/2012