Uncertainty over A-G's new role may postpone search for Mazuz replacement

Uncertainty over A-Gs n

By DAN IZENBERG
October 25, 2009 23:29
2 minute read.

 
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The search committee to recommend a new attorney-general will consider at its next meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, whether to suspend the search process until the government decides what duties the next attorney-general will have. Attorney-General Menahem Mazuz is due to retire at the end of January. Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman has declared that he intends to divide the current responsibilities of the attorney-general and appoint two officials to fulfill the separated functions - a general attorney in charge of criminal affairs and a legal adviser to the government. The two functions will be independent of one another. Currently, the attorney-general is at the top of the legal pyramid and responsible for both criminal prosecution and legal advice to the government. The chairman of the five-person search committee, retired Supreme Court justice Theodore Orr, decided to consider postponing it work in response to a letter sent last week by The Legal Forum for the Land of Israel. In it, the NGO wrote that it could not understand "how the committee can establish the suitability of a person for a job that is not yet defined." Orr wrote back immediately, "I confirm receipt of your letter... which includes a request to stop the activities of the search committee. I will bring the request to the attention of the committee at its next meeting." Meanwhile, on Friday, Yediot Aharonot published details of what it said was the draft of Neeman's reform proposal, and added that he had already presented it to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the rest of the cabinet. The Yediot report states that the attorney-general's position will indeed be split into two posts that will independent of each other. The legal adviser to the government will be responsible for all civil affairs, while the head of criminal affairs will be named the general attorney. The High Court Section of the State Attorney's Office will be split into two, and all civil matters will be dealt with by the legal adviser to the government. The general attorney will have sole responsibility for criminal investigations and decisions as to whether to prosecute cabinet ministers, including the prime minister. A public committee headed by a retired Supreme Court president or justice will choose the general attorney. The report does not state how the legal adviser to the government will be picked. One of the most controversial questions is what powers the legal adviser to the government if the reform is approved. Currently, if the attorney-general determines that a government action is illegal, the government may not carry it out. Yediot reported that according to Neeman's proposal, the legal adviser's legal opinion will not be binding on the government. Disagreements on the legality of a proposed action between the government and the legal adviser will be settled by the High Court of Justice. However, Neeman's communications adviser, Gil Solomon, said this part of the report was inaccurate. Although it is possible that Neeman has suggested changing the legal adviser's prerogatives, it appears that his opinion will still be essentially binding. The search committee was due on Wednesday to begin discussing in greater detail some of the potential candidates for the position of attorney-general. Among the names mentioned by the media are private lawyers Yehuda Weinstein, Lipa Meir, Zvi Agmon and former law professor Ron Shapira, Bar-Ilan University professor Ariel Bendor and former military advocate-general and current Haifa District Court Judge Ilan Schiff. However, as reported above, the committee may suspend its deliberations altogether until the government decides on the reform of the attorney-general's functions.

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