Deputy AG: If reforms pass, ‘government won’t be above the law; it will be the law’

Gil Limon says coalition’s proposals seek to trample legal opposition; Justice Minister Levin accuses him of grandstanding, says comments underline imperative for reform

Carrie Keller-Lynn is a former political and legal correspondent for The Times of Israel

Deputy Attorney General Gil Limon (center) speaks at a meeting of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on January 16, 2023. (Dani Shem-Tov/Knesset)
Deputy Attorney General Gil Limon (center) speaks at a meeting of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee on January 16, 2023. (Dani Shem-Tov/Knesset)

A deputy attorney general decried the government’s plan to reduce ministry legal advisers’ counsel to non-binding, telling a Knesset committee on Monday that the proposal is part of a larger judicial reform package that would put the government above the law.

“There is a sequence of moves here, the cumulative result of which is a stain on the status of the rule of law in a democratic country,” Gil Limon, deputy attorney general for public administrative law, told the Knesset’s Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee.

“The government will interpret the law for itself and will be assisted by private lawyers who will back it up,” Limon said on the committee’s first day of open debate on its bill to let the government determine its own legal positions and representation, regardless of Justice Ministry advice.

“The government will not be above the law; it will be the law,” he added.

The bill to enable the government and its ministers to determine their own legal positions, independent of advice, was drafted by committee chair Simcha Rothman, together with a private lawyer from the right-wing think tank Kohelet Policy Forum.

It is one of four major points currently being pushed under Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s sweeping judicial reform plan, which, in a separate bill, will also move to constrain the High Court of Justice’s ability to invalidate laws and enable the Knesset to re-legislate them, transfer judicial appointments to political control, and eliminate the court’s ability to evaluate the “reasonableness” of government decisions.

Levin, Rothman, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have backed the reforms as necessary to rebalance power between an activist judiciary and the people’s elected representatives. The attorney general, the Supreme Court president, and political opposition leaders have attacked the reforms as destructive to democracy and dangerous to civil liberties.

Representing the attorney general’s line, Limon told the Knesset panel that the full reform suite will give the government control over key points in the rule of law mechanism, which would leave the government “not subject to the law.”

Justice Minister Yariv Levin at a meeting of the Knesset Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee on January 16, 2023. (Dani Shem-Tov/Knesset)

“Whoever writes the law, and also decides for himself, and also chooses the judges and can override the judges’ decision, will not be subject to the law,” Limon said.

Limon said that the Attorney General’s Office was committed to helping Levin draft “appropriate” reform, echoing opposition party leader Benny Gantz, who beseeched the coalition to form a cross-political camp forum for creating a balanced judicial reform. Gantz’s entreaty was brushed off by the justice minister.

“Our participation in today’s debate expresses our commitment to help the justice minister design appropriate arrangements. We hope that there will be a real dialogue regarding legal reform,” said Limon.

In response, Levin accused Limon of grandstanding.

Levin, who slipped into the Constitution Committee hearings to hear Limon, said that despite his meeting with Limon on Sunday, the deputy AG only raised his concerns in this public forum.

“I think there is no more instructive example of the need for the reform I am leading than what we just heard,” said Levin.

“The deputy AG appears here, presenting a legal position on a very important issue that concerns a matter that is at the core of my ministry’s actions. When do you think I heard or could read this opinion? Believe it or not — now. This is the first time I’ve heard of it,” he said.

Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman at a Knesset Arrangements Committee meeting on June 21, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Saturday evening, an estimated 100,000 Israelis took to the streets in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and Haifa to protest the government’s judicial reform plan. A counter-protest in support of the plan is being planned for later this week.

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