ANALYSIS / As important as Olmert may be, he's not above the law
High Court ruling that the AG can suspend Olmert if he doesn't cooperate with probe against him is a polite warning.
While the High Court of Justice rejected the petition of journalist Yoav Yitzhak, who asked that the attorney general be instructed to declare the prime minister "temporarily" incapacitated in order to allow the premier to be completely available for police questioning, an analysis of the court's ruling, which is worded more delicately than normal, reveals that the prime minister could easily be saying "one more victory like this one and we're finished."
The court's ruling embodies primarily a warning directed at the prime minister. It reminds him, very politely, that as senior a position as he may hold, he is still not above the law, as Thomas Fuller famously said.
The High Court justices made it clear that there is a possibility that "the attorney general will have room to declare the prime minister temporarily incapacitated," so that he will become more available to police investigators.
This ruling means that the attorney general has the authority to suspend the prime minister not only in the event of a dramatic decline in health, as was the case with Ariel Sharon. The attorney general, for his part, has recently asserted in a letter to the legal forum that there is "doubt" whether he has the legal authority to suspend the prime minister. However, in his response to the petition submitted by Yitzhak to the High Court he did not rule out taking such a step under a number of different circumstances.
The High Court ruling means that not only does the attorney general have the authority to act, but also that it is likely that he will exercise this authority if the time consuming nature of the prime minister's job will keep him from being investigated. The ruling did "for the time being" leave the suspension question within the political and public realm, but it can be seen as having given a green light for the attorney general to immediately exercise his authority in light of the delays in the investigation.
The court ruling specifically stipulates that the authority to determine the date and the length of police questioning sessions lie solely with the attorney general, and not the prime minister, as he seems to think. This decision on determining interrogation dates corresponds with the basic law that the government cannot decide to launch an investigation against a prime minister without the express authorization of the attorney general.
The justices' ruling that "the prime minister must cooperate with the investigators and act in the expected manner under these complex circumstances," requires the prime minister to make time to be available for questioning at any time, and for any length of time, which will be determined by the attorney general. The police, for their part, are to coordinate the questioning sessions with the attorney general, and are not to decide upon their dates and lengths on their own accord.
Since the law enforcement authorities announced that the investigation will "proceed as planned," and in light of the court's ruling, it is now expected that all the pending criminal investigations against the prime minister will proceed without delay, regardless of his announcement that he will step down from his post in about a month and a half. One can only hope that the formal rejection of Yitzhak's petition, and the mild language of the justices' ruling, won't prevent the true message of the ruling from sinking in, which is equality before the law.