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(photo credit: Channel 2)
For the second time in 10 days, the High Court of Justice on Sunday indicated that it is taking seriously petitions calling for the establishment of a state commission of inquiry to replace the Winograd Government Committee of Examination into the recent war in Lebanon.
The panel of three justices, headed by Ayala Procaccia, that has heard the case so far decided on Sunday to expand the number of justices. This is an indication that Procaccia and Justices Miriam Naor and Elyakim Rubinstein believe a serious legal issue is at stake and the decision must indicate a broader consensus than the usual bench of three.
According to the decision, "we have decided to expand the panel of justices who will continue hearing the case. The decision as to how many, and which, judges will be appointed will be made by the president of the court, Dorit Beinisch."
The separate petitions were submitted by government watchdog organizations Ometz and The Movement for Quality Government. They charged that the Winograd Committee did not have the necessary status and prerogatives to investigate the war, and that it had been appointed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Defense Minister Amir Peretz, two of the main personalities that need to be investigated by the committee. The petitioners maintained that only a state commission of inquiry appointed by the president of the Supreme Court, would have the necessary independence to do the job properly.
The law does not oblige the government to appoint any type of committee of inquiry. According to Section 1 of the 1968 Investigation Committee Law, the government "may" establish a state commission of inquiry, "if it is sees that there is a matter of vital importance at that moment which requires clarification."
The petitioners argued that in previous rulings, the court did not rule out the possibility of ordering the government to appoint a state commission of inquiry in exceptional circumstances. If there was ever a time to apply that ruling, it was now, the petitioners maintained.
After a preliminary hearing on October 3, the court headed by Procaccia issued a show-cause order instructing the government to provide a detailed response, including an affidavit signed by an authoritative government representative, responding to the petitioners' arguments.
The response was submitted last week. The state argued that the court should not intervene in a matter in which the law gave the government such wide discretion to decide whether or not to appoint a state commission. It also maintained that the government-appointed Winograd Committee had virtually the same powers as a state commission of inquiry and that its members were not caught in a conflict of interests since there were no benefits, but only hard work, involved in being appointed to the committee.