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The impact of not having a justice minister – analysis

CM 20/04/2021

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Israel has not had a justice minister for nearly three weeks – and will not have one for at least another 10 days to two weeks.
It is even possible that the issue may go unresolved beyond that point for an undefined period.
What has been and what will be the full impact of this unusual empty seat, which has a variety of key powers for operating the state?
There is the general problem for the rule of law of the country’s top legal official ceasing to exist. Former state attorney Shai Nitzan has called having the Justice Ministry run without an elected representative of the public “unthinkable.”
The deadlock in which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to allow Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz to appoint a candidate to the post pursuant to their coalition deal has already had clear costs.
The prime minister’s main interest in the position appears to relate to the impact it can have on key law enforcement and judicial appointees who could then impact his public corruption trial that opened on April 5.
If Netanyahu had quickly formed a new government, then slightly delaying the issue for a few days so he can appoint his preferred candidate might have seemed more legitimate.

But a few days may quickly become five weeks.
Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit has warned that extraditions have been on hold and will be on hold until there is a justice minister to sign them.
This will hurt Israel’s ability to catch global criminals and its relations with other states.
He has also cautioned that without a justice minister to sign off on coronavirus Zoom hearings, all prisoners will need to be brought to court for every hearing, despite the risk of infection to the prisoners and the public.
No major laws can be passed without a justice minister since that minister runs the ministerial legislative committee.
In addition, there are limits on the powers of the coronavirus cabinet and the security cabinet, which were created to be able to respond to crises in a much faster way than the full, unwieldy cabinet.
When Supreme Court vice president Hanan Melcer stepped down last week, it was without even an acting replacement since there is no justice minister to take action. This is true about mounting vacancies throughout the courts.
These are the more well-known impacts.
HOWEVER, former Justice Ministry director-general (and current senior Facebook official) Emi Palmor told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday that the damage goes far beyond these issues.
To give context, Palmor painted a sarcastic picture of whether the country would be calm and ambivalent if the position of IDF chief was left vacant.
“Why do we need an IDF chief? Can’t we do without one? We can save money – and the IDF’s major generals cannot handle things? What, you think the army won’t fall apart?” she asked sarcastically.
Clarifying that going on without a justice minister was as ridiculous as the army with no chief, she added that the ministry is already weakened by many acting appointments and without permanent officials.
This is true about the state attorney and the ministry’s director-general, which leaves them “less respected and with less power” to accomplish their critical roles for the country, she said.
Besides these more well-known posts, she noted that the ministry also lacks or will soon lack permanent heads of the Privacy Authority, the Public Defender’s Office, the authority for supporting disabled persons and multiple deputies of the attorney-general.
All of these have been held up by the same political paralysis holding up the filling of the justice minister post.
But Palmor went a step further.
She said that it was problematic that anyone would serve as acting justice minister – especially if, like Gantz, they also held responsibility for another major ministry like Defense.
She said doubling the Justice Ministry with anything else makes it “seem like a joke.”
Moreover, she said only the justice minister can hold to account and provide oversight for judges and the ministry’s sprawling thousands of employees and its NIS 3 billion budget.
The former director-general said that a good minister makes his or her presence felt, is constantly forcing officials to answer questions about why and how they do things for the public and is improving the ministry’s long-term strategic achievements, such as progressing into the digital age.
Only a justice minister can demand answers from top prosecutors about why cases might be taking too long, as well as provide additional budget support to alleviate such issues as they come up.
For how long will this go on?
UNTIL LATE Monday, there was hope among some that the High Court of Justice would intervene and order the immediate appointment of a new acting justice minister.
However, Mandelblit advised the High Court late on Monday that he would endorse the prime minister’s request to postpone the issue for approximately two weeks until the start of May.
Not so coincidentally, Netanyahu has a mandate to form the next government until May 4.
But what if Netanyahu goes back on his word and does not allow the appointment of a new justice minister even at that point?
Will the position remain unfilled for another period of 28 days if a mandate is given to politicians in the anti-Netanyahu bloc?
Might the position continue unfilled for another 21 days after that when the Knesset itself would have the mandate to select a prime minister?
And what if the country then goes to the fifth elections?
It is possible that beyond May 4, Mandelblit and the High Court may gather their forces and push through an acting justice minister selected by Blue and White’s Benny Gantz.
The court took a similar move to remove Yuli Edelstein as Knesset Speaker, and to press the government to appoint a permanent police chief after more than two years of having only an acting chief.
But at the earliest, this would likely happen after five weeks of chaos.
And if the court is forced to step in and appoint a justice minister, it will further erode relations between the executive and judicial branches.
In the worst-case scenario, this crisis could continue for months until a new government is formed after a fifth election after that election – which would cause incalculable harm.

Source: Jerusalem Post

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