Israel’s Aharon Barak receives 2006 Gruber Justice Prize

Gruber Prizes, Media releases

“At great personal risk, Barak has been a towering figure in protecting democratic values, human rights
and the independence of the judiciary.”
“We, the judges in modern democracies, are responsible for protecting democracy both from terrorism
and from the means the state wants to use to fight terrorism.”

(Aharon Barak 2002)

Media Release: 

Aharon Barak, retired President of the Supreme Court of Israel, will receive the 2006 Gruber Justice Prize.

President Barak is renowned for championing an activist judiciary and the rule of law and democracy.

It’s a remarkable journey for a man who as a child survived the Holocaust, and was at one point smuggled out of the Kovno Ghetto in a sack of clothes.

Barak retired on 16 September as President of Israel’s top court after 11 years at its helm, and 28 years in its service. Under his term, the Supreme Court has issued rulings that have ensured the just application of the law for both Jews and Palestinians, and that have protected democracy both from terrorism and from the means the state wants to use to fight terrorism.

Barak has said that his role as a judge is to “protect human rights and the dignity and equality of every human being”. He has spoken widely of how his experiences in the Holocaust have shaped his outlook and of the need to preserve the rule of democratic law not just in times of peace but also in times of war and terror. He stresses, “We need laws most in times of war”.

“Judges are under enormous pressure because of their willingness to make justice available to all people,” says Dennis Archer – one of the selection panel, and a former President of the American Bar Association.

“From time to time one person stands out, someone who under great pressure and at personal danger, nevertheless administers the law according to the facts before him, protecting the human rights of all. Aharon Barak is such a man, and that’s why he merits this prestigious award, says Archer.

“For me, Aharon Barak is the ultimate judge: competence, integrity, exceptional talent and most of all courage,” says Claire L’Heureux Dubé, a former Canadian Supreme Court justice.

“He is one of a kind: as a person he is warm and unpretentious, a superb writer and terrific speaker, a great human being with an incomparable sense of justice and service to the people.  As a judge, he is a great jurist who allies common sense with a sophisticated and learned mind.  Most of all, he is a profound humanist,” she says.

“Justice redresses the arbitrary use of power by an individual or by a group,” says Peter Gruber, Chairman of the Peter Gruber Foundation. “Barak is a role model for judges everywhere,” he says.

The Justice Prize is one of five Gruber Foundation Prizes. The others are Cosmology, Genetics, Neuroscience, and Women’s Rights.

For further information or contact Niall Byrne:, +1 314 448 9909 – US cell, +61 417 131 977 – Australian cell.

Background: 2006 Justice Prize

Born in Lithuania in 1936, Barak was one of the very few children to escape the Kovno Ghetto. He immigrated with his parents to Israel in 1947.

He studied law, economics and international relations at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and received an MA in law in 1958 and a doctorate in 1963. Barak was appointed Associate Professor of Law at the Hebrew University in 1968, and was made Professor in 1972.

Barak participated in the preparation of an international treaty on bills of exchange for the United Nations, and served as Israel’s Attorney General for three years from 1975, before his appointment to the Supreme Court in 1978.

Barak has lectured widely internationally, including in the US, and is the author of several books in English and Hebrew including The Judge in a Democracy (2006), Purposive Interpretation in Law (2005) and Judicial Discretion (1989).

Under Barak’s helm, the Israeli Supreme Court has interpreted Israel’s basic law as its constitution and has, when necessary, challenged Knesset laws on that basis.

The official citation reads:

“The 2006 Justice Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation is proudly presented to Aharon Barak, former President of the Israeli Supreme Court – jurist, scholar, advocate, public servant and educator.
Aharon Barak is a person of outstanding courage and principle who has devoted his life to the promotion of justice and the just rule of law.At great personal risk, he has been a towering figure in protecting democratic values, human rights and the independence of the judiciary.”

The Justice Prize is the second Gruber Prize to be awarded in 2006 – with the Genetics, Neuroscience and Women’s Rights prizes to be presented in October and November.

In August, the Cosmology Prize was awarded to Dr. John Mather and the COBE team for their work confirming that our universe was born in a hot big bang.

Since 2001, the Justice Prize of the Peter Gruber Foundation has recognized individuals who have furthered the cause of justice as delivered through the legal system. The Prize carries a gold medal and a US$250,000 cash prize.

Past Winners of the Justice Prize

  • Malaysian attorney Dato Param Cumaraswamy who, at considerable risk to himself, stood up for the independence of the judiciary, received the prize in 2005.
  • Chief Justice Arthur Chaskalson, the first president of South Africa’s Constitutional Court, and Deputy Chief Justice Pius Langa, an advocate and judge who helped establish South Africa’s Constitution as a model for modern democratic societies, jointly won the 2004 prize.
  • Canadian judges Madame Justice Rosalie Silberman Abella and Madame Justice Bertha Wilson jointly received the 2003 prize for their contributions to jurisprudence in Canada and beyond. Abella, who served on the Ontario Court of Appeal for 20 years before her appointment to the Supreme Court, is one of Canada’s best known and respected legal minds; Wilson, the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court of Canada, has forged a reputation as a champion of the underdog and a dedicated proponent of fair play.
  • Fali Sam Nariman, Member of the Parliament of India, Senior Advocate in the Supreme Court of India and President of the Bar Association of India, received the 2002 prize. Nariman has played an important role in both establishing and enforcing the law in India. He was cited for promoting the universal rule of law in a modern era of emerging democracies and supportive systems of jurisprudence.
  • The Honorable Justice Anthony Roy Gubbay, former Chief Justice of Zimbabwe, and the Law Society of Zimbabwe were the joint recipients of the inaugural Justice Prize in 2001, honored for upholding the independence of the judiciary and  protecting the rights of the people of Zimbabwe

Justice Advisory Board

Justice Prize recipients are selected by the Prize’s distinguished Advisory Board. Members of the 2006 Advisory Board are:

  • The Honorable Rosalie Silberman Abella, Justice, Supreme Court of Canada
  • Dennis Archer, Esq., Former President, American Bar Association, Former Mayor of Detroit
  • Giuseppe Bisconti, Esq., Attorney, Studio Legale Bisconti, Rome
  • Martin Lee, Esq., Attorney, Office of Martin C.M. Lee, QC., SC., Hong Kong
  • The Honorable Sandra Day O’Connor, Justice, Supreme Court of the United States of America, retired

Curriculum Vitae

Please click on picture for full size

Aharon Barak, born in Lithuania in 1936, is married and the father of four. He studied law, economics and international relations at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Barak received an MA in law in 1958, and a doctorate in 1963.

  • 1968: Appointed Associate Professor of Law at Hebrew University
  • 1970-72: Participated in the preparation of an international treaty on bills of exchange in the framework of the United Nations Commission of International Trade Law
  • 1970-72: Lectured at New York University School of Law
  • 1972: Appointed Professor at the School of Law, Hebrew University
  • 1973: Received Kaplan Prize for excellence in science and research
  • 1974: Appointed Dean of Faculty of Law, Hebrew University
  • 1975: Received Israel Prize in legal sciences
  • 1976: Member of the Israeli Academy of Sciences
  • 1975-78: Attorney General
  • 1978: Appointed Justice of the Supreme Court
  • 1978-94: Adjunct professor at the School of Law, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
  • 1993: Appointed Deputy President of the Supreme Court
  • 1995: Appointed President of the Supreme Court

(Please click on picture for full res) A larger picture is available on request

Aharon Barak – Useful weblinks (Foreign Affairs biography) (2006 book) (speech by Barak on his own background, his role as a judge, democracy in war and peace, quotes) (article on Barak by Israeli think tank; power of supreme court) (University of Toronto link) (Jerusalem Post) (Jerusalem Post) (recent Yale University article),2763,1250608,00.html (Guardian article on court and wall) (another wall article) (Supreme Court of Israel website)

Other Peter Gruber Foundation Prizes

Each with a $250,000 cash award – will be presented as follows:

  • Genetics: Tuesday 10 October at the American Society for Human Genetics Annual Meeting in New Orleans;
  • Neuroscience: on Sunday 15 October at the Society for Neuroscience Annual Meeting in Atlanta;
  • Women’s Rights: Thursday 2 November at Columbia University Law School, New York City.
  • Cosmology: was presented to John Mather and the COBE team in August 2996.