Bill on body to oversee State Attorney discussed

Former justice ministers deliver damning criticisms of the judicial system.

By
July 25, 2012 02:24
4 minute read.
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein [file]

Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein 370 (R). (photo credit: Ronen Zvulun / Reuters)

In an unusually stormy Knesset Control Committee meeting on Tuesday, former justice minister Haim Ramon  slammed as “farcical” and “ridiculous” the attorney general’s plans for a body to audit the State Attorney’s Office.

Together with former justice minister Daniel Friedmann, Ramon, who was himself formerly a justice minister, called on Knesset to pass legislation to establish an external body to audit the prosecution.

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Committee chairman MK Uri Ariel (National Union) had convened the meeting to discuss proposals by the Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein, and current Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman to establish a body within the Justice Ministry to oversee the prosecution.

The meeting quickly turned into calls for a law to establish an external audit body, however, as Ramon and Friedmann delivered damning criticisms of the justice system.

Neeman, who also took part in the hearing, objected to the calls by his two predecessors to advance legislation to establish the body.

Meanwhile, Ariel said the committee would reconvene to discuss a bill to anchor the audit body in legislation.

In a loud, colorful and impassioned speech, Ramon slammed plans by Weinstein and Neeman to set up the audit body. That body would “stink” in the absence of a “law with teeth” to regulate it, Ramon said.

Ramon blasted proposals that Weinstein himself would be responsible for overseeing the internal audit unit.

Ramon said that under Weinstein’s proposals, the body would not be anchored in legislation and – at least not in its initial phase – would not examine public complaints against the prosecution.

The former justice minister said that only a law passed by Knesset could ensure the prosecution would be audited properly.

In a dramatic moment, Ramon hinted that he had been ousted from office in 2006 after suggesting passing such a law.

“Probably because of that I very quickly ceased to be the justice minister,” Ramon said.

He resigned as justice minister after then-attorney-general Menachem Mazuz decided to indict him regarding an IDF officer who complained Ramon had kissed her against her will.

In 2010, Ramon called for a criminal investigation in the wake of a damning report by then-state comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss into the so-called “Ramon affair,” which slammed both the police and prosecution for their conduct in indicting the former justice minister for indecent assault. Lindenstrauss’s report singled out senior officials, including Tel Aviv District Attorney Ruth David.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Ramon blasted the way the prosecution had handled cases involving senior political figures, including foreign minister Avigdor Liberman.

“The people issue verdicts regarding the officials they elect,” Ramon said. “But the prosecution denies the people’s verdicts, and there is nobody to answer to this.”

Ramon said that in his case, “three district court judges ruled separately that the prosecuting attorney had shown gross negligence bordering on malice, and yet nobody was disciplined.”

Friedmann, Ramon’s immediate successor in the Justice Ministry, agreed, noting it was very easy to press charges against a justice minister, but somewhat harder to do the same against an attorney-general.

Friedmann said that the body to audit the prosecution must have powers to bring disciplinary procedures against everyone, including the attorney-general.

“In the Ramon affair, a thorough investigation of the negligence claims was stopped, when at the same time there is no problem investigating the prime minister and ministers,” he added.

Justice Ministry deputy director Ronen Gurewitz told the meeting that the Civil Service Commission agreed the structure of the audit body three weeks ago, and the government would soon launch a tender to appoint a head.

Meanwhile, others at the meeting also voiced criticisms of the state attorney’s office.

MK Marina Solodkin (Kadima) complained that there are innocent people sitting in prison because of the prosecution, but did not say who those people might be.

“We, as Knesset members, must make their voices heard,” Solodkin said.

Yitzhak Shafrir, representing families evacuated from Gush Katif during the disengagement, also spoke out, saying that the state attorney’s office had dragged its feet for eight years over the Evacuation Compensation Law, but as members of the public there was nobody to whom they could complain.

After the meeting, the Justice Ministry said the attorney general had previously presented his plans for the audit body to the Control Committee, and that the ministry was now dealing with setting it up.

The new unit, named the Audit Unit for the Prosecution and Representation in the Courts, will be run by a jurist familiar with the prosecution’s work but not directly connected to the state attorney’s office, a ministry spokesman said.

Tuesday’s Control Committee debate came after Weinstein informed the Knesset in April that he planned to establish an internal audit unit within the Justice Ministry, that would oversee the prosecution.

Weinstein said that eventually – but not initially – the new unit would look into complaints from the public.

Earlier this month, Justice Ministry Director General Dr. Guy Rotkopf said that establishing the new unit, including recruiting its director, would take around four months, and that therefore the unit should be up and running in October.


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