Committee Approves Bill Allowing 48-hour Ban on Releasing Suspects' Names

If approved by the Knesset, a new law would allow criminal suspects who have not been charged with a crime to delay publication of their names for 48 hours to enable them to request a court order banning such publication.

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation approved the proposed legislation yesterday, which, if passed by the Knesset, will prohibit the release of suspects' names for 48 hours after they are informed that an investigation has been opened against them, or a hearing involving them is due to be held, whichever comes first. This will enable the suspect to request that the court issue a gag order extending beyond the first 48 hours.

The bill was initiated by the Justice Ministry following the recommendations of a commission headed by retired judge Eliahu Winograd, and appointed in 1998. Most of the panel's members then shared the opinion that a suspect's identity should not be made public prior to the filing of an indictment, inasmuch as in the majority of cases, the suspects are not known to the public at large and, ultimately, are never actually charged with a crime.

The law already allows courts to issue such gag orders, but there are occasions when a suspect's name is released before he has been able to petition the court for such an order. The new legislation would address this problem directly. The explanatory notes of the bill state that such a "situation renders the possibility of a request for a ban on publication devoid of content in many cases and it is liable to cause irreversible damage to the suspect." According to the wording of the bill, the harm can be especially serious when it turns out that the suspicions against the individual were mistaken, and that such damage could have been avoided if a gag order had been imposed in time.

The bill allows for exceptions in which the court can authorize the release of a suspect's identity within the first 48 hours. If, for example, the person is a public figure, the necessity of releasing information about the suspicions against him may outweigh the harm he may suffer as a result. Another exception would also be allowed if many people have already come under suspicion and release of the suspect's name early on would clear their name. There would also be an exception in cases where law-enforcement investigators believe it is important to publicize the identity of a suspect - for example, in the case of a suspected sex offender - in the hope that this would encourage other victims to come forward.