If Likud and Shinui do not patch up their differences by tomorrow night, when Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's letters of dismissal to the Shinui ministers go into effect, Sharon will find himself holding five additional portfolios, including that of justice minister.

Sharon's possession of the justice portfolio creates a serious problem of public ethics. It is inappropriate for any minister to hold this portfolio when he and his sons are being investigated by the police. In Sharon's case, the investigation relates to campaign finance and a loan that his son received from businessman Cyril Kern.

One part of the problem is that Attorney General Menachem Mazuz - whose office is technically part of the Justice Ministry and whose appointment Sharon supported - will make the decision on Sharon's case. Additionally, the Judicial Appointments Committee, which will meet next week to appoint new judges, is chaired by the justice minister.

However, there is no legal barrier to Sharon serving as justice minister. The High Court of Justice, which forbade people under indictment to serve as ministers, has thus far declined to expand this prohibition to people under investigation. In 2003, the court refused to disallow Tzachi Hanegbi's appointment as public security minister, even though a previous police investigation against him created a possible conflict of interest, and just last month, a seven-justice panel ruled 4-3 that Hanegbi can return to this ministry, from which he recently suspended himself, if a new police investigation against him fails to end in an indictment.

The court also ruled recently that the prime minister has very broad authority over the composition of his cabinet, and the court will thus intervene in his decisions only rarely.

Nevertheless, since the Justice and Public Security ministries both have extensive powers over individual freedom, only people with unblemished records ought to hold these portfolios. One way for Sharon to solve this problem is by immediately appointing someone else as temporary justice minister until a permanent minister is chosen.