Israeli Justice Chief Mulls Giving Ministers Say in Choosing Legal Counsels

Ayelet Shaked's proposal is related to a bill that, according to the Israeli Democracy Institute, undermines the aim of advisers - to serve the public

Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at the weekly cabinet meeting, May 14, 2017.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is mulling legislation that would change the way legal counsels are hired at government ministries, whereby the current competitive tender process would be replaced by recommendations by a search committee.

Apparantly, the proposal would not allow ministers to appoint their preferred candidate directly, nor would they serve on the headhunting panel. But according to one source, the move would give ministers a say on the appointments of the legal advisers who will serve them.

The proposal Shaked is considering corresponds with a far-reaching private member’s bill, sponsored by lawmaker Amir Ohana (Likud), which would enable ministers to hire legal counsels for the ministries within the framework of “positions of trust.”

Presently, the legal counsels are chosen by means of a competitive process held under the auspices of the Civil Service Commission; their tenures are not limited. The counsel's opinions are binding on the ministry in question, and only the attorney general can decide to fire them.

On Sunday the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, headed by Shaked, postponed by a week the vote on Ohana’s proposal – which has already been categorically rejected by the attorney general and civil service commissioner.

“The fact that Shaked decided to delay the vote by just a week shows that she isn’t ruling it out entirely,” said one Likud source.

Another source said Shaked and Ohana agreed that they would try to push his proposal through its preliminary legislative stages, and then to integrate it in some fashion into the law that she is considering.

Last week the Israeli Democracy Institute called on the ministers to reject Ohana's initiative, claiming that it undermines the role of the legal counsel, which is to serve the public and to ensure the ministry complies with the law when implementing its policies.

Ohana’s proposal has been supported by 24 members of the government coalition. Its explanatory clauses state that the method of using a search committee is not unique. In the United States, after each election, legal advisers in each department of the federal government routinely step down. They are replaced by the incoming administration in order to facilitate its functioning and implementation of the policies on the basis of which it was elected.

As part of this process, the counsel’s job is defined as helping the minister realize his policy and giving him the legal tools he needs to do so; overall oversight and control of the legal goings-on in the federal departments are exercised by other bodies such as comptrollers, the courts system and law enforcement agencies.

Ohana recently remarked that his bill would put an end to what he calls the rule of the lawyers. “A legal counsel is supposed to help the minister realize the policy for which he was elected," he said, "not to become an uber-minister who sends bombshells wherever he sees fit.”