Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar hopes to split the attorney general’s job in two by September, when a search committee is expected to start seeking a replacement for Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit.
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The committee may start work later than that due to September’s Jewish holidays. But it is supposed to convene some months before Mendelblit’s term ends in February.
Sa’ar is currently holding feverish discussions on the plan with various parties, including officials from his ministry’s legislation department, which is supposed to draft the necessary legislation. But ministry sources said some Justice Ministry officials oppose splitting the position.
Currently, the attorney general essentially has two jobs. He is both head of the prosecution and the government’s legal adviser. If the job were split, the state prosecutor would become head of the prosecution while the attorney general would remain the government’s legal adviser.
Sources familiar with the plan said that if the job is split, it could influence the search committee’s choice of the next attorney general, which is why it’s important to pass the necessary legislation before the committee starts work. An attorney general who isn’t head of the prosecution presumably wouldn’t need the same qualifications as one who is.
Sa’ar said in January that he wants to split the job in part because there’s currently an “extreme concentration of power” in the attorney general’s hands. In addition, he said, “a situation in which the same person who advises the prime minister and other ministers on policy issues also orders them investigated and put on trial is irrational and tainted by an in-built conflict of interests.”
The idea of splitting the job has been proposed many times in the past, including by former justice ministers Yaakov Neeman and Daniel Friedmann. But this time, it actually stands a good chance of being enacted. It has supporters both within the government and in the opposition.
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Nevertheless, many senior legal officials both past and present oppose splitting the job, saying that doing so would lead to the attorney general becoming a political appointment. They also charge that the idea is aimed at weakening the legal system.
“There’s no doubt that splitting the attorney general’s job will dramatically weaken the law enforcement system,” former Supreme Court Justice Menachem Mazuz, who is also a former attorney general, said last month. Moreover, he argued, “The government won’t benefit from a weak attorney general who doesn’t enjoy the trust of either the public or the courts.”
Mendelblit also indicated opposition to the idea when he said at a conference at Bar-Ilan University last month that he opposes splitting the military advocate general’s job. Like the attorney general, the military advocate general is both the army’s chief legal adviser and the head of the military prosecution.