Israel Justice Minister Proposes Reducing Legal Advisers' Role in Ministries

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Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman is promoting a move that would reduce the the role of legal advisers in government activity. He surprised ministers with the proposal at the weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.

Neeman's proposal would mean that the opinions of the ministries' legal advisers would not be automatically added to proposed resolutions, except in cases when they deemed them to be unequivocally illegal.

Departing from procedure, Neeman tabled his proposal without prior coordination with Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauzer, during the government's debate on changes to the cabinet's work procedures.

A minister who attended the meeting said that Neeman asked to speak. He then pulled out a document and began reading clauses that he suggested be added to the government's work procedures.

The clauses dealt with the role of ministry legal advisers while preparing documents for cabinet resolutions - documents received by ministers three days before the meeting, which include the final draft of resolutions to be voted on.

These documents, referred to as "decider resolutions," include an appendix written by the legal adviser of the relevant ministry, as well as opinions of other ministries that might be affected by the resolution.

The legal opinion includes the presentation of legal difficulties that call for changing the formulation, and potential clashes of authority between ministries.

At the cabinet meeting, Neeman suggested canceling the appendix; including the adviser's legal opinion only in cases where they determine the resolution to be completely illegal; and that they shouldn't be subjected to a voting process.

Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor immediately trashed the proposal, saying it would deprive ministers of the complete picture over problems that might arise.

Meridor added that even when the resolution isn't unequivocally illegal, other problems might arise - such as legal discrepancies with Israeli or international law; conflicts of interest; and other legal matters that ministers should be aware of before voting.

Neeman rejected Meridor's criticism, saying, "Judicialization is dominating the minister's work." Other ministers supported Neeman and attacked the legal advisers of the various ministries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not reject Neeman's offer, but found an elegant way to postpone debating it until further notice. "I disagree with Dan Meridor's position," he said, "but Neeman's proposal should be the subject of a separate discussion. The attorney general [Yehuda Weinstein] isn't present, so we'll debate the issue some other time."

Justice Minister Yaakov NeemanCredit: Olivier Fitoussi