Legal experts split over attorney-general role

Experts split over chang

November 10, 2009 03:28
2 minute read.

Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, a senior researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute, said Monday he supported Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman's proposal to split the functions of the current attorney-general's position as long as the Knesset passed a law declaring that the legal adviser's opinions were binding and that the legal adviser and the chief prosecutor could only be fired if the search committees that nominated them agreed. Kremnitzer, one of several experts speaking at a symposium sponsored by the Bar Association to discuss the justice minister's controversial proposal, also said that the system for electing the legal adviser to the government, which was proposed by the Shamgar Committee in 1998, must have the status of a law. Neeman has already agreed that the attorney-general's opinion should be binding, though it is not clear whether he intended to pass a law on the matter. Tel Aviv University's Prof. Ze'ev Segal, who also supports Neeman's proposal, said he had advised the justice minister to establish a task force to consider the question, but made it clear that there was no need to go into too much depth on the issue because in the final analysis, the decision would be a political one and not a legal one. Segal also said that there was no reason to treat the Shamgar report, which recommended maintaining the system of one person serving as legal adviser to the government and chief prosecutor, as something sacred. He said two of the committee's five members, Moshe Nissim and Prof. Ruth Gavison, had favored splitting the functions, but had not wanted to disappoint committee head Meir Shamgar. Segal added that much had changed since the committee had submitted its report. "No one thought at the time that the attorney-general would be so busy indicting ministers, MKs and others," he said, adding that State Attorney Moshe Lador had once told him that Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz read every document pertaining to corruption investigations of senior public officials, even though Lador was in charge of their day-to-day handling of these affairs. Retired Supreme Court justice Yitzhak Zamir said it was clear that Neeman's proposal was aimed at weakening the power of the attorney-general. "Neeman says the move will strengthen the position. This is just a slogan," he said. "Those who favor splitting the functions say the attorney-general has enormous power and he must be weakened. I understand, therefore, that their aim is to weaken the attorney-general - some with good intentions, others not." Labor MK Ophir Paz-Pines warned that the question of splitting the functions of the attorney-general was like all the other issues that had been raised in the government and the Knesset over the past few years. "There is a war going on," said Paz-Pines. "It's the same war that was fought over the establishment of a constitutional court and the powers of the Supreme Court. The same people are involved in each war. They want a weak court and a weak attorney-general. It is a war between the politicians and the legal system." He added that if he had to choose between an overly powerful prime minister and justice minister or an overly powerful attorney-general, he preferred the latter.

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