The Supreme Court, Jerusalem.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Two NGOs and the Yesh Atid party both filed petitions to the High Court of Justice on Thursday morning requesting that it strike down the newly approved Police Recommendations Law as unconstitutional.
Late Thursday the court ordered the state to respond to the petition within 30 days.
The law, which passed after 43 hours of dramatic filibustering by opposition parties that said it was designed to cover up the government’s corruption, has been debated for months through the lens of the current probes against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other MKs.
Netanyahu eventually agreed to the legislation not applying to probes against him. This means that the police would be able publish their expected recommendations to indict him in one or more corruption investigations.
However, whether the law protects him from the publicizing of police recommendations against the prime minister in the Submarine Affair if he ever officially becomes a suspect in it, and in other probes against MKs, is still under debate.
The Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel attacked the new law on a range of grounds.
For one, it said that its language is so vague that those it potentially targets, police or other law enforcement officials who would publicly share information about their recommendations for criminal probes, may not know about how to comply with it.
The NGO said that the law violates several constitutional principles, including: the right of the public to certain information, the right to have public oversight and criticism, the public’s right to elect officials, equality before the law, and the public’s faith in law enforcement.
More specifically, the petition said that the public’s right to elect public officials includes the right to know their full record, such as if the police have recommended to indict them in an ongoing investigation.
Regarding equality before the law, the petition said that the law would grant special treatment to public officials.
The Movement for the Quality of Government asked that if the law is allowed to stand that at the very least, the High Court order that it will not apply to public officials.
In addition, the NGO objected to the fast-track procedures used to speed the legislation through the Knesset.
It contended that the committee that handled moving the law forward was not authorized to do so, and only did so because it was controlled by government officials who were committed to ensuring the measure’s passage and to covering up public corruption by coalition officials.
Further, the Movement for the Quality of Government said that the law harmed the principle of reciprocal feedback between different arms of law enforcement – the police and the prosecution.
Yesh Atid’s petition also focused on the law as still being a way to defend Netanyahu from his criminal probes. Its petition, filed by MK Karin Elharar, said that after cutting through the law’s provisions, it turned out that the prohibition of publicizing police recommendations was almost exclusively directed at public corruption cases – since it likely only applied to .0005% of cases, namely cases relating to public officials.
Moreover, Yesh Atid’s petition asked what the government officials have to hide. The petition referenced past well-known judicial opinions complaining about public officials who lacked any sense of shame or restraint in seeking wealth and power, as compared to earlier eras of officials who were more modest and focused on the welfare of the country.
The other NGO that filed a petition against the law was the Movement for Ethical Purity.
The government’s main defender will likely be Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon. Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit is also expected to defend the law, on the narrow grounds of it not explicitly violating any laws or constitutional principles, but both he and State Attorney Shai Nitzan repeatedly publicly attacked the bill harshly as bad policy and harmful to law enforcement’s efforts.
These quotes could be thrown back at them by the petitioners or by the High Court justices.