Netanyahu's request to postpone next week's hearing denied

Questions started to resurface late Tuesday about whether the impending stricter third lockdown would cause further delays.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press statement ahead of the start of his trial at the District Court in Jerusalem in May. (photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu gives a press statement ahead of the start of his trial at the District Court in Jerusalem in May.
(photo credit: YONATAN SINDEL/FLASH 90)
The Jerusalem District Court on Wednesday night rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for postponing his January 13 hearing.
The court said that although the prosecution had amended the indictment, because Netanyahu’s lawyers had a full year to study the original indictment and with the changes not being hugely substantive, there was no reason not to proceed.
At the same time, the court took Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit to task for failing to turn over original protocols and internal documents in which he approved the investigation into Netanyahu in 2016.
The court ordered him to immediately produce these documents for the defense, while permitting him to censor irrelevant material in those documents.
Questions started to resurface late Tuesday about whether the impending stricter third lockdown would cause further delays.
Next week’s hearing is to feature Netanyahu in person, and the Jerusalem District Court is to set dates in February for hearing witnesses, the heart of the trial.
However, the tightening of the third lockdown expected from Thursday midnight has unleashed a war of words about whether the courts should stay open.
Netanyahu’s lawyers on Wednesday afternoon also raised the possibility of asking the court to reconsider its rejection of a wide variety of immunity arguments. By Wednesday night, the lawyers clarified that the basis of any new immunity request could be the novel question of whether an amended indictment must also be cleared by the Knesset, though there is no provision in the law that says this.
At 12:22 p.m. on Tuesday, the court spokesperson’s office sent out an email to reporters with detailed instructions to prepare for next week’s events. At 3:30 p.m., a spokesman for Defense Minister and Acting Justice Minister Benny Gantz said he had spoken “with the attorney-general and discussed a variety of legal questions pertaining to judicial functioning and freedom of protest under pandemic-related regulations. Gantz stated that he is unwilling to curb the freedom to protest or the right to appeal.”
According to the attorney-general freedom to protest can be restricted only under a special state of emergency. Limiting the activity of the courts and/or the right to file legal appeals are the sole discretion of the justice minister. Gantz  intends to make these two basic rights inviolable in any new lockdown arrangement.”
However, at 4:49 p.m. Tuesday, Israel Bar Association president Avi Himi said that “the health of lawyers is not inconsequential, and if it is decided to enact a full lockdown, it must include the courts, to which hundreds and thousands of lawyers are going every day, alongside parties to cases and citizens.” Himi said he would push for a decision to close the courts.
He accused the government and the judiciary of  “sacrificing them [the lawyers] on the altar of the trial of the prime minister.”
Although the first lockdown delayed Netanyahu’s trial from March to May, with the courts mostly closed, the second lockdown did not delay the trial at all, with the courts remaining nearly fully open.
Himi is a supporter of the judiciary and Mandelblit, so, unlike the Likud, which might have mixed motives, his call to close the courts is likely to be perceived as apolitical.
Gantz and the court spokesperson on Wednesday issued a joint statement that he had held his first meeting with Supreme Court President Esther Hayut.
The statement said that he would protect the judiciary’s independence and made no reference to any plans to close the courts due to the impending stricter lockdown.
If the courts do not close, this would remove a major basis for delaying Netanyahu’s trial.


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