PM Should Not Be Acting Justice Min.

The resignation of Justice Minister Haim Ramon in the wake of the attorney general's announcement that he is "considering" prosecuting Ramon for performing an indecent act without consent is an appropriate decision. Ramon could have insisted on his right to a hearing and to stay on, resigning only in the event that he is formally charged. But his resignation appears necessary in light of the AG's announcement and of the circumstances. When justice minister Yaakov Neeman was suspected of violating the law he resigned before an indictment was even drawn up. He was tried and acquitted.

Ramon's decision to waive a hearing was based on the reasonable expectation that he would be prosecuted in any event. If indicted, the minister would be compelled to resign. Attorney General Menachem Mazuz's announcement on Thursday that the suspicion "cannot remain without a clear decision being made, and there is a very clear public interest in reaching a clear and decisive judicial ruling on the matter" left little room for doubt. In effect, it hinted to Ramon that his own self-interest lay in a judicial ruling.

Ramon's alleged crime carries a maximum prison sentence of three years. The trial, if one is held, will be in Tel Aviv, the jurisdiction of the alleged offense. The sensitivity of the offense and the position of the defendant calls for a three-judge panel rather than ruling by a single judge.

Ramon is suspected of having forcibly kissed an 18-year-old female soldier in a government office.

Ramon's decision to waive immunity from prosecution enable the attorney general to issue an indictment 30 days after the charge sheet is drawn up. The rather long interim period was legislated to enable Knesset members to retract the decision to waive immunity. The issuing of an indictment does not affect an MK's standing.

Ramon's resignation becomes effective 48 hours after it is announced. The Basic Law on the Government permits the prime minister to take the place of a minister who has stopped serving for a period of three months. Alternatively, the cabinet may appoint another serving minister. The appointment of an acting minister is appropriate only if the trial of the minister who has stepped down is likely to be completed within three months.

When Yosef Lapid resigned as justice minister, prime minister Ariel Sharon appointed then-absorption minister Tzipi Livni to replace him. Due to the heavy burden of the prime minister's job and the nature of the justice minister's position, which includes selecting judges and recommending candidates for presidential pardons, it is not reasonable for the prime minister to serve as acting justice minister.

The cabinet, with Knesset approval, can reassign cabinet posts or bring in another minister. Both methods provide for the appointment of a new minister of justice, not just a "temporary" justice for three months. In any event, it is obvious that if Ramon is acquitted he would be able to return to his post. This would require a proposal on the part of the prime minister, a cabinet decision and the Knesset's approval.