ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 146

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Attorneys in state’s employ warned against protesting judicial overhaul

State Attorney Association gets legal opinion from private law firm on the matter after hundreds of lawyers rallied outside Tel Aviv court Thursday

Lawyers take part in a demonstration against the government's controversial plans to overhaul the judicial system, outside the Tel Aviv District Court on January 12, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)
Lawyers take part in a demonstration against the government's controversial plans to overhaul the judicial system, outside the Tel Aviv District Court on January 12, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

State prosecutors and public defense attorneys should not take part in protests against the government’s planned judicial overhaul, according to a legal opinion issued Friday.

The memo, which was written up by a private law firm at the request of the Israel State Attorney Association, declares that lawyers in the state’s employ may not take part in rallies with a political character.

The opinion said relevant laws “forbid the participation of attorneys, as workers of the judicial branch, in a protest against the policies of the government or a minister, such as the planned demonstration on our affairs.”

According to Walla news, attorneys were warned that sanctions for those who protest will be significant.

The Israel State Attorney Association asked Goldfarb Seligman to draw up the opinion, a day after hundreds of lawyers protested against the planned reforms outside a Tel Aviv court and ahead of mass anti-government rallies scheduled for Saturday night.

Thursday’s rare demonstration by attorneys came after Justice Minister Yariv Levin on Wednesday published the first pieces of draft legislation aimed at restructuring the legal system.

Lawyers take part in a demonstration against the government’s controversial plans to overhaul the judicial system, outside the Tel Aviv District Court on January 12, 2023. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The overhaul will grant the government total control over the appointment of judges, including to the High Court, severely limit the High Court’s ability to strike down legislation, and enable the Knesset to re-legislate laws the court does manage to annul with a single-vote majority of just 61 MKs.

In an open letter published Thursday, a group of former state attorneys, attorneys general and Supreme Court chiefs said they were “shocked” by Levin’s program.

“We call on the government to retract the plan it published and prevent the severe damage to the court system and rule of law,” wrote the 11 senior jurists.

Also Thursday, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut gave an unprecedented speech in which she warned Levin’s proposed changes would deal a “fatal blow” to Israel’s democracy.

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara issued a similar warning, saying the proposed overhaul will create an “imbalanced system of checks and balances,” and that “the principle of majority rule will push other democratic values into a corner.”

Netanyahu has rejected the criticism, asserting in a video statement Friday that his government has a “clear mandate” to remake the judiciary and arguing that the proposed overhaul was consistent with the democratic governing structure that prevailed in the decades following Israel’s founding.

AFP contributed to this report.

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