Detainees in Israel to Attend Proof Hearings After Attendance Suspended Due to Coronavirus

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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A court hearing over video conferencing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court, May 7, 2020.
A court hearing over video conferencing at the Tel Aviv Magistrate's Court, May 7, 2020.Credit: Moti Milrod
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

Detainees in Israeli jails will again be able to attend proof hearings in their cases starting this week, after this a two-month suspension due to the coronavirus crisis. The government is expected to make an amendment to emergency measures on this matter in the coming days. In hearings related to extension of remand, suspects will still not be allowed to be present in court.

Furthermore, lawyers will again be allowed to meet their clients in prisons in order to prepare them for court sessions. During the health crisis, this was only allowed by phone.

However, as reported in Haaretz two weeks ago, the government is advancing a legal memorandum which will preclude bringing suspects to any hearings in their cases. According to a proposal being prepared by the Ministry of Justice, communication with detainees will be done by videoconference, as has been the case in recent weeks due to the emergency measures. This memorandum will be a temporary measure, remaining in place for one year. 

Since the outbreak of the pandemic, detainees have not been brought before a judge for hearing on extending their detention. Thus, a judge cannot get a direct impression of a detainee’s condition. The new regulation will leave open the possibility for a judge to request to see the detainee, if he believes that a videoconference will cause disproportionate harm to the detainee and if he thinks that the court should get an unmediated impression of the person being discussed. Such a request will have to be made by the court’s president. Most hearings related to extension of detention are handled by the judge on call.

Prison Service officials say that ending the practice of bringing detained suspects to court means it would no longer need to transport them there, which often takes hours. The State Comptroller said the state could save 40 million shekels ($11.4 million) annually by not bringing detained suspects to court hearings. 

The court system administration as well as the chairman of the Israel Bar Association have opposed holding hearings via video. The bar association’s chairman, Avi Himi, said the arrangement ”denies the most basic rights of the detainee and our ability to defend suspects.”

The Police, the Prison Service and Ministry of Finance support the proposed measure. They have opposed bringing detainees to courts for years, preferring to hold hearings using technology.

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