Politicians, justice officials battle for control of legal establishment

With around a dozen MKs from over six parties screaming at each other throughout, Joint List MK Dov Henin was finally kicked out of the room.

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June 25, 2018 12:42
2 minute read.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Knesset Member Nissan Slomiansky debate in a ministerial committe

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Knesset Member Nissan Slomiansky debate in a ministerial committee meeting on Monday, June 25, 2018. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)

 
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Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit, multiple ex-Supreme Court justices who were also attorneys-general, and a range of MKs called the government’s proposed bills to further empower political control over appointments of government lawyers a “great danger.”

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and various MKs pushed back hard against this attack at the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on Monday.

Shaked – at times talking over intense yelling from both sides – said politicians should be trusted, “are not corrupt” and will not appoint “a Sancho Panza” type character.

The multiple bills propose different ways for politicians to gain greater control over legal advisers who are considered “gatekeepers” of the rule of law in government ministries.

Supporters of the bills claim the legal advisers need to be friendlier toward positions of the ministers they serve, and that this can only be ensured by having the ministers have greater control over their appointment.

Opponents say this would politicize the legal advisers and remove some of the last checks and balances to preserve the rule of law in a parliamentary system that has few such restrictions on the ruling coalition.

Around a dozen MKs from six or more parties screamed at each other throughout the meeting until Joint List MK Dov Henin was finally kicked out of the room.

Former deputy Supreme Court president and ex-attorney-general Elyakim Rubinstein attacked the proposed bills, saying no one had presented evidence that current legal advisers “frustrate the policies” of their ministers, and that Shaked herself has said she respects the current legal advisers.

“It is clear we would be going toward politicization” of the legal advisers and that the bills “were not healthy and would be a slippery slope” toward damaging the rule of law, he said.

Former Supreme Court justice and ex-attorney-general Yitzhak Zamir went even further and said, “I don’t remember anything previous which was this great a threat to the rule of law... it is even more dangerous than the override bill.”

Zamir explained that the bill to allow the Knesset to override Supreme Court decisions “is symbolic,” but that politicizing all government legal advisers would undermine the rule of law more comprehensively and directly.

In contrast, Shaked said some of the same former attorneys-general who oppose the bill had themselves been appointed in a fashion that was more controlled by politicians, and that they had been strong appointments. She added that she was mostly suggesting a return to an old system which had worked for years.

The change from the old system for appointing the attorney-general to the current system came in the wake of the “Bar-On affair” in which it was alleged that a potential candidate for attorney-general was being pushed forward as part of improper political horse-trading, including influencing criminal investigations.

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