On 4 January 2023, Justice Minister Yariv Levin revealed his plan to change the regime in the State of Israel by crushing the independence of the judiciary and fully subordinating it to the executive branch, which already fully controls the legislative branch. In order to implement this revolution, Levin announced a package of legislative amendments including a clause to override Supreme Court decisions by a slim majority of 61 MKs, increasing the number of politicians in the Judicial Appointments Committee, ending the standard invoked by the Supreme Court to overrule government decisions deemed unreasonable, and making legal counsels of government ministries positions of trust. Retired Supreme Court President Aharon Barak called Minister Levin’s plan a collection of “all the bad proposals made over the years” equivalent to a “revolution with tanks.
This Position paper which was submitted to the Constitution Committee of the Knesset Zulat’s position is stated It is stated that Minister Levin’s proposal resembles previous suggestions by the Right to make legal counsels positions of trust to be filled at a minister’s discretion, thereby facilitating their firing in the event of disagreement. However, Levin’s proposal goes even further, as it does not content itself with changing the hiring and firing method but, by default, explicitly turns a minister into his own/the ministry’s legal counsel, given that neither would be obligated by the counsel’s advice, nor would it in any way change the legal situation. Ministers would be entitled to reject a counsel’s advice, act in contravention to it, and decide themselves the ministry’s position to be presented to any judicial authority.
devastating consequences of the proposed amendment:
- It will destroy the independence of legal counsels and eliminate their role as “gatekeepers” with the authority to prevent the ministry/minister from carrying out actions that run contrary to the law, court rulings, and proper management.
- It will severely damage the status of the Attorney General, given that his/her guidelines will be ignored and contravened as a result of the operation of a separate legal counseling system in every government ministry.
- It will expand corruption, conflicts of interest, lawlessness, and mismanagement in the operation of government ministries.
- It will turn legal counseling into political and elastic appointments, given that counsels who fail “to deliver the goods” will be summarily replaced and will have to live with the constant threat of impending firing. Indeed, we saw this happening in the Finance Ministry under Yisrael Katz’s tenure. Legal counsel Assi Messing wrote an opinion nixing Katz’s choice of director general on the grounds that he did not meet the minimum requirements for the job. In response, Katz refrained from consulting Messing on relevant issues and refused to let him attend work meetings. On 12 November 2020, Katz published the following post on his Facebook page: “As I have made clear in the past, civil servants who seek to sabotage the policy I am leading in the Finance Ministry, in accordance with the mandate we received from the electorate, the door is open for them to leave. There are many worthy replacements who will only be too happy to fill their place.”
- It will thoroughly damage the functioning of ministries: Hiring legal counsels without a tender will lead not only to the selection of non-independent staff, but also to the employment of unsuitable legal counsels lacking the minimum requirements stipulated by the Civil Service Commission in terms of professional and managerial experience. In this context, it should be emphazied that the role of legal counsel is not only to give advice to the ministry’s top brass regarding reforms and matters of interest and under the minister’s direct jurisdiction, but also to manage the legal bureau’s staff and to provide guidance on the legality and proper management of the ministry’s daily work, projects, and affiliate bodies and companies with regard to commitments, contracts, and budgets, as well as on any legal proceedings.
- Hiring legal counsels will squander public funds, given that a minister will be his ministry’s supreme legal authority. In other words, legal counsels will not even have a role as “rubber stamps.”