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AG to High Court: Gov’t must appoint justice minister within days

CM 25/04/2021

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Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit updated the High Court of Justice on Sunday that the government must appoint a new permanent justice minister within days.Despite that concrete statement, Mandelblit appeared to waver between whether this meant the government, or the High Court if the government failed to act, would need to appoint a justice minister this week or whether it could wait to address the issue until next Sunday, May 2 per its request.One scenario which the attorney-general ruled out entirely was appointing another temporary justice minister.It was unclear if the High Court would issue a ruling later Sunday or wait until later in the week.Another issue which Mandelblit clarified was that attempts by the government to reduce the health risk of bringing unvaccinated prisoners to court in-person were positive, but insufficient.Last Thursday, the High Court issued an interim order demanding that the government respond by Sunday at 2:00 p.m. regarding its failure to appoint a justice minister.Typically, the justices give the government weeks or even months between an initial hearing and needing to provide a final response, suggesting that the court will not give the state much longer to resolve the issue.

In fact, the ruling appeared to apply to all of the vacant ministerial roles, though the justice minister position has taken center stage.To some extent, the ruling seemed to endorse Mandelblit’s view that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could postpone the issue, but only until the start of May.The position has been empty since the start of April when Benny Gantz’s three-month term as acting justice minister expired.Since then Netanyahu has prevented the appointment of a replacement.Connected to the justice minister issue and increasing the pressure for a resolution was the issue related to prisoners’ health.Absent a justice minister, who has the power to exempt prisoners from coming to court hearings in-person in favor of zoom hearings due to coronavirus considerations, many unvaccinated prisoners would have to come to court for every hearing without measures in place to prevent significant infection events between them and the general public.High Court President Esther Hayut, Justice Neal Hendel and Justice Uzi Vogelman were so upset by the idea that the government was abandoning the health of the general public in the court’s space and the prisoners’ health without proper measures, that they initially demanded a resolution by Thursday afternoon.Hayut said that, “the lawless space is leading to a situation of extreme unreasonableness.”Vogelman said, “Appointing ministers is not a political issue – it is an overwhelmingly constitutional and governance issue.”When the government asked to defer the issue to Sunday, Hendel initially said, “it is impossible to postpone, even until Sunday. We don’t know what the consequences would be.”By late Thursday afternoon last week, Gantz jumped on the High Court’s comments and demanded an immediate convening of the cabinet to appoint a justice minister.Last Monday, Mandelblit had appeared to take the side of the petitioner, the Movement for the Quality of Government in Israel, criticizing the prime minister for delaying the appointment and causing major gaps in governance which require a justice minister.However, Mandelblit also said that given that Netanyahu was only asking for a two week delay, the High Court should likely grant the prime minister’s request.Implied in Mandelblit’s Monday legal brief to the High Court was that if Netanyahu further holds up the justice minister’s appointment, that he would likely support the court ordering the appointment itself.On one hand, Netanyahu has wanted to avoid Gantz appointing a minister allied with Blue and White.At the same time, the prime minister has been able to argue that the government is in transition and could be on the verge of a new government – which would make waiting for the new government appear more logical.
Source: Jerusalem Post

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