Livni announces new powerhouse c'tee to oversee prosecution

In last minute surprise, prosecution supports creation of c'tee, leaves behind past vehement opposition.

By
July 8, 2013 16:54
3 minute read.
Tzipi Livni at the President's residence, January 31, 2013.

Tzipi Livni at the President's residence 370. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

Justice Minister Tzipi Livni sat side by side on Tuesday with Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein and State Attorney Moshe Lador in announcing the establishment of a committee to oversee the state prosecution and other arms of the Justice Ministry and police.

Livni made the announcement at a special session of the Knesset State Control Committee. The initiative should find “the right balance between strengthening the public’s confidence” in the prosecution, “efficiency of the state’s apparatus” and preserving prosecutorial independence from politics, she said.

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The unprecedented breadth of the committee’s role, going beyond the State Attorney’s Office to include the Attorney-General’s Office and even parts of the police, including more direct power to discipline public officials, makes the committee a powerhouse with no equal in government, other than possibly the state comptroller.

After years of delay, the announcement ended what was once a fierce all-out battle between Lador and former justice minister Yaakov Neeman over the future direction of the prosecution.

The show of unity surprised many, given Lador’s past ardent opposition.

Addressing the issue of how his past position has been covered in the media, Lador said “the prosecution has never opposed and has always supported creation of an oversight body.”

Later, Lador implied that part of his agreement to support the initiative had been conditional on guarantees to respect the prosecution’s independence and discretion, with the new committee focusing more on administrative decisions and holding prosecutors to the code of professionalism and impartiality.

Repeated questions from Knesset members and other officials at the Control Committee session were unable to pry free a concrete definition or examples from Livni, Weinstein or Lador of what aspects of the prosecution’s role would be off-limits to the new panel.

Mainly, Livni emphasized that: 1) as opposed to earlier discussions of the initiative, the committee would not merely oversee the state prosecution, but also arms of the Attorney-General’s Office as well as the prosecutor’s office of the police; 2) that the committee would accept complaints from members of the public as soon as it is established; and 3) that oversight would kick in on specific cases after they were completed and not “mid-case.”

Livni and Lador both said this was crucial to support prosecutors’ independence and to avoid undermining their commitment to enforcing the rule of law.

Weinstein said that he “had supported having an oversight body over the Attorney-General’s Office and the State Prosecution from day one” of his time in office more than three years ago.

However, responding to criticism of some Knesset members and others present, indicating their desire to limit the prosecution’s independence and discretion even more, he added that “we cannot impact the discretion and independence of the prosecution in enforcing the law.”

During this retort, Weinstein uttered the word “independence” three times in a matter of seconds.

Knesset State Control Committee chairman Amnon Cohen welcomed the new committee.

“This is great news,” the Shas MK said. “The public will finally have an address” for its complaints about the conduct of prosecutors.

There were other issues whose resolution remained fluid. For example, former justice minister Daniel Friedmann had an exchange with those presenting the initiative about who would head the new committee and how he would be chosen.

Friedmann said a search committee should be created that would not include the attorney-general, since the committee would be overseeing the attorney-general.

Next, he said the justice minister should make the appointment from a choice of at least three candidates.

Livni and others appeared to take notes on Friedmann’s suggestions, and the feedback from the suggestions appeared to indicate that some issues were still undecided, although a statement from the Justice Ministry indicated that Weinstein would head the search committee in spite of Friedmann’s objection.

One area where Friedmann and Livni parted ways was the fact that the committee is being established based only on Livni and the cabinet’s authority, and that a Knesset law on the issue will wait, possibly indefinitely.

It was also unclear what the committee’s timeline would be, but there were indications that it would start operating within a few months and that its authority would extend to the police in six to 12 months.


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