Publish the minutes
Justice should not only be done, it should be visible, something that has not occurred yet.
After the many days of the trial of former President Moshe Katsav in room 606 of the Tel Aviv District Court, we could have expected that the verdict would reveal more about what went on in the courtroom. Throughout the trial, judges George Karra, Miriam Sokolov and Judith Shevach refrained from publishing even a small part of the testimonies.
An appeal to the Supreme Court on this matter did not help, despite a ruling by Supreme Court Justice Miriam Naor, who made clear, in the spirit of freedom of information, that a decision on "hearing a case in the dark" could be in force when witnesses were giving testimony but not after that, when the verdict was handed down. The judges in the Katsav trial persist in their defiance; they are behaving as if this were some sort of top-secret judges' club.
The summary of the verdict published on Thursday sums up the charges, facts and legal conclusions. The judges note that "to the extent that any detail in this summary contradicts what is said in the verdict, the language of the verdict is binding."
No less. The portions published by the court might deviate from its opinion as a whole in one way or another, but there is no way to check this because of the iron curtain still shrouding the Katsav file. This curtain is much heavier than those lowered over verdicts in no less sensitive trials that dealt with security matters. For example, the case of Brig. Gen. Yitzhak Yaakov, in which the verdict by a panel headed by the late judge Sarah Sirota was widely publicized.
The Katsav summary is nothing but a document of 29 pages chosen from the verdict, which apparently totals 350 pages given only to the two sides in the case. The judges note more than once in the summary that a particular matter is detailed in the verdict. In the current situation, the harsh sentence on Katsav as it appears in the summary looks too definitive. It consistently favors the versions of the women who complained, and essentially makes a mockery of every claim by Katsav and his lawyers.
That's not how you summarize a case that is more than four years old and generated great public interest. Actually, it's not possible to seriously evaluate the verdict and how well-founded it is. It could be that the picture emerging from the verdict as a whole illuminates other aspects beyond viewing Katsav's testimony as "riddled with lies, large and small, consistently marked by manipulation and hiding information." Meanwhile, the testimony of A. from the Tourism Ministry is considered "completely reliable." Her answers were "spontaneous and unsophisticated, [her] words were almost completely backed up by external testimonies, some of which she was unaware."
It could be that the summary of the verdict is carefully crafted, a document that is not missing any details or facts. It could be otherwise. In any case, it is now necessary without delay, in the spirit of freedom of information and the Supreme Court's ruling on the confidentiality of the Katsav trial, for the District Court to order the immediate publication of other parts of the verdict. Especially important are the minutes of the testimonies during the trial, except details of the complainants' testimonies that could seriously violate their privacy.
The public also has a right to know the facts in order to form an opinion on the issues that came up during the trial. It has this right before the sentence is pronounced and the expected appeal, though its chances are slim given that the verdict is based on the degree of lack of trust in the defendant and trust in the complainants.
Justice should not only be done, it should be visible. The justice done by the judges in the Katsav case has not been visible, at least not at this stage. The published summary does not contribute to faith in the justice system, and it's no wonder that some voices are being heard about this.
The judges also represent the public when it comes to judicial information. The Katsav case is not just another serious case of rape, indecent assault and sexual harassment. It's a flagship trial that is supposed to carry a clear-cut ethical message intended to encourage women who lodge complaints about sexual offenses, while maintaining a fair trial for the defendant. This message was also missing from the summary that was too short, lacked detailed explanations and was filled with decisive assertions.