Courts Accuse Police of Holding Detainees Overnight to Avoid Red Tape

Police often insist that detainees be brought before a judge, even if this means they have to be held overnight over very minor offenses.

Detainees are being held overnight even in cases where they could be immediately bailed out at the police station, simply because the Israel Police prefers to let the court system deal with the bail money, a series of court rulings and correspondences suggest.

The documents, which include correspondences between the courts administration, police and justice minister, indicate the police lack an official mechanism to collect bail money. Therefore, they insist that detainees be brought before a judge even if this means they have to be held overnight over very minor offenses.

police - Moti Milrod
Moti Milrod / Archive

Plus, police have made little use of a temporary arrangement letting them place bail money with the court accountants.

Last week, Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court Judge Michal Barak Nevo stated in a ruling that police appear to be demanding unjustifiably harsh release conditions in order to ensure that detainees are brought before a judge.

"I'm somewhat afraid there might be certain policies that take prisoners out of the duty officer's authority in order to justify a court appearance," the judge wrote. "I recognize that this is not a simple thing to say, but I'm saying it based upon dozens of release requests that I've seen in recent days that had no justification for being brought before the court, with the claimants occasionally saying that some of the release conditions were beyond what the duty officer was authorized to handle."

Barak Nevo wrote this as part of a ruling in the case of a man detained for stealing a bag on the Tel Aviv beach. Police wanted the man to be banned from entering Tel Aviv for 60 days as a release condition. A duty officer may ban a person from a city only for 15 days, so the suspect was brought before a judge.

"I do not see any reason to ban the man from the city, as I do not see any connection between the offense and Tel Aviv," the judge wrote. "There are beaches all along Israel's western border."

The judge also sent some of her rulings to the head of the Israel Police investigations unit, Brigadier General Varda Shoham.

"Why did this case have to be brought before the court, considering the unnecessary damage to the suspect, who was forced to remain in detention overnight, and the unnecessary burden on the entire system that brought the detainee to court, and the court itself?" she wrote to Shoham.

Barak Nevo also recently complained about the police to the Courts Administration, prompting administration head Moshe Gal to send Shoham a letter of his own.

"Despite the justice and public security ministers' instructions, and despite the temporary working arrangement between the police, the Prison Service and the court administration ... police officers still are not using their authority to release detainees. As a result, detainees are being held needlessly until they are brought before a judge, and the courts are listening to hundreds of unnecessary cases only so that the bail money can be handled by the court."

Gal added he believes that the police ask for remand extensions even when they think detainees should be freed on bail. When these cases come to court and the defense attorney asks that the detainee be released on bail, the police lawyers immediately relent, he said.

Temporary deal

The Courts Administration and the Public Security Ministry struck a temporary arrangement allowing police to release detainees on bail and give the money to the court accountants. Since it came into force in January, it was used only in 271 cases as of May, the administration said.

The Public Security Ministry said that before 2004, police had had an agreement with the courts system that let the latter handle bail money. This ended following a state comptroller report on irregularities in the Courts Administration's finances. The current, temporary arrangement will expire at the end of the year, by which time the ministry hopes the police will have a bail collection system.

The Courts Administration said the police were failing to abide by the agreement and were still burdening the court with unnecessary hearings, and causing unnecessary damage to the detainees. It said it believes the justice and public security ministers were supposed to meet and resolve the issue.

The Israel Police said there were only few cases were detainee had been brought before a judge only to be bailed out. In most cases there were several reasons for a remand, or the release conditions were beyond the authority of the duty offices, it said. Most courts could accept bail money only between 8:30 A.M. and 1:30 P.M. - a few operate until 6 P.M., and none are open afterward, it said, adding that it was looking into Barak Nevo's ruling.