In an escalating spat with the attorney general, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir appealed to the High Court of Justice on Monday to allow him independent counsel in petitions against him and his ministry, following Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara’s request for more information from the minister before she could make authorize such a step.
Ben Gvir complained to the High Court in his filing that he had no faith in the attorney general’s willingness to represent his position in legal proceedings against him and his ministry, describing her behavior toward him as “illegal, unreasonable, disproportionate and unfair.”
On Sunday, the attorney general told Ben Gvir she could not agree to his request for independent legal counsel in petitions against him and his ministry until he further clarifies the nature of his request.
Her letter was leaked to the press on Monday morning, and Ben Gvir immediately shot back that he had no trust in the attorney general, bringing the spat between the government and its chief legal adviser to a new low.
In a letter to the minister dated Sunday, the attorney general noted the minister had failed to coordinate a meeting with her office to discuss the issues at hand, and also noted that the attorney general is the sole authority for interpreting the law for the government.
As such, she pointed out that independent legal counsel is granted only in “unusual circumstances.”
Ben Gvir retorted quickly that “I have no faith in you, your judgment, or your decisions” and upbraided Baharav-Miara for having frozen his decision to remove Tel Aviv District Police Commander Amichai Eshed from his position without consulting him first.
The attorney general’s letter followed Ben Gvir’s own missive to Baharav-Miara on Sunday in which he demanded to receive independent legal counsel for the petitions against him and his ministry.
The Attorney General’s Office almost always represents the government in legal proceedings against it or against legislation, and ministers must receive permission from that office to obtain independent counsel in a situation where the attorney general does not support the government’s position.
The petitions against Ben Gvir and his ministry challenge both the constitutionality of legislation passed in December, which expanded the power of the national security minister over the police, and Ben Gvir’s decision to remove Eshed from his command last week.
Baharav-Miara said in her letter that she had requested his ministry’s response to the petitions against the legislation last Tuesday, as well as a meeting with Ben Gvir, but had received no response.
As to the request for independent legal counsel, Baharav-Miara said Ben Gvir’s request had been too general and had failed to specify what cases he wished to have private counsel for, and so asked him to provide greater details and reasoning for his request.
“As is known, the task of the attorney general is to assist the government to advance its policies and represent its positions within the boundaries of the law, and we make every effort to fulfill this role in the best manner possible,” the attorney general wrote to Ben Gvir.
“When dispute arises, a discussion with the ministers is held to resolve that argument through an effort to arrive at an agreed upon position.”
She also noted pointedly that the attorney general serves as “the authorized interpreter of the law for the government,” adding that the attorney general’s written opinions are binding on the government and “represent existing law, as long as a court has not determined otherwise.”
Baharav-Miara concluded “it is therefore not possible to evaluate your general request to receive separate counsel for the petitions against you and your ministry,” and said Ben Gvir must provide specific details about his position on those petitions before she could determine “if there is justification for separate representation.”
In his filing to the High Court, Ben Gvir noted that his representatives were supposed to meet with the Attorney General’s Office on Sunday to discuss the petitions against him.
He argued however that Baharav-Miara’s intervention over the Eshed affair without first consulting him had ruined his trust in her and claimed that he therefore needed legal counsel independent of the Attorney General’s Office.
In an earlier statement to the press, the minister told Baharav-Miara, “I have no trust in you, your judgment, or your decisions, and the time has come for me to stop hearing about the letters you send to me through the media.”