Editorial

Is Everyone Equal Before the Law?

If we are to judge the conduct of law enforcement in two criminal investigations that saw significant progress last week, the principle of equality before the law is being disdained

Attorney David Shimron on July 11, 2017.
Attorney David Shimron on July 11, 2017. Moti Milrod

A fundamental principle in the legal sphere, particularly in the area pertaining to crime, is that of equality before the law. Just as in elections each person gets an equal vote, so is every person entitled to have the penal code enforced against him equitably, and not more stringently than against other people, important as they may be.

When suspicions are raised against elected officials and their associates, the right to equality also means that the privileged aren’t treated any more gently than ordinary citizens. “The rule for Yadlin is the rule for Buzaglo,” a phrase coined by former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak in 1976, when he was still attorney general, came in response to a request by Asher Yadlin, a senior Mapai figure, to be questioned by police in his office rather than in a police station, a request Barak refused.

If we are to judge the conduct of law enforcement in two criminal investigations that saw significant progress last week – Case 3000, which relates to possible corruption in a deal to purchase naval vessels, and the Bezeq-Elovitch case, in which Bezeq owner Shaul Elovitch allegedly obtained confidential documents from Communications Ministry Director-General Shlomo Filber – the principle of equality before the law is being disdained, at least with regard to detention procedures and the attitude toward the suspects.

Some of the suspects arrested in Case 3000, including Michael Ganor, the Israeli agent of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems, and former National Security Council deputy director Avriel Bar Yosef, indeed had their detention extended in court. But other suspects in these two cases, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal attorney and confidant David Shimron, former Israel Navy commander Eliezer Marom, Filber, Elovitch and Bezeq CEO Stella Handler were merely sent to house arrest. Some were released by police detectives without being brought to court.

Police and prosecutors in such complicated investigations of course have leeway in deciding whether to release suspects without bringing them before a judge. But the selectivity with which law enforcement authorities use this power, to the benefit of renowned suspects time after time, raises concerns that these decisions are not based on the facts at hand, but are concessions to the powerful.

The arrest and detention of suspects and investigation tactics used against them, similar to the question of whether to open a criminal investigation against a public figure or make do with a “preliminary inquiry,” are issues relating to criminal investigation procedures. Attorneys general have repeatedly promised that while the questioning of senior officials is carried out with particular caution, in the substantive areas of weighing evidence and making decisions, the principle of equality is strictly observed. The legal authorities, however, must give all suspects equal treatment at every stage of the legal process.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.