Israel Police Seek to Detain Coronavirus Patients for the Duration of Their Illness

A draft temporary order has been revised so that being a carrier of the coronavirus would not alone be grounds for detention, but criminal suspects who test positive could be held

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Police patrol the streets, Jerusalem, March 30, 2020
Police patrol the streets, Jerusalem, March 30, 2020Credit: Emil Salman

The Israel Police are seeking the passage of a three-month temporary order that would permit them to hold suspects in detention who are in quarantine or have been diagnosed with the coronavirus for the entire period of the quarantine or illness, even if there is no progress in the investigation of their cases during this period. Explanatory notes with the legislation state that it is necessary “to prevent the investigative team from being infected.”

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 72

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In addition, the Shin Bet security service is seeking to have the period during which detainees suspected of nationalistically motivated crimes can be barred from seeing a lawyer extended from 21 to 35 days due to the coronavirus epidemic.

The bill the Justice Ministry is seeking to pass would allow coronavirus patients and those in quarantine to be held for the duration of their quarantine or illness, in addition to any other period during which they could be detained by law. At the request of the Public Defender’s Office, which has objected to the proposed legislation, a detention judge would have the right to include the additional days, but being a coronavirus carrier or in quarantine would not be grounds in and of itself for detention, but rather only a factor to be considered.

A man stands at Moscovia Detention Center, Jerusalem, March 12, 2020Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

A legislative memorandum issued Monday with the draft of the bill sought by the police and Shin Bet includes revised language that is less restrictive than what it was originally proposed. But it would still empower a judge to order the detention of criminal suspects even if there has been no progress in their investigations, if they had the coronavirus or were in quarantine. It also requires the judge “to consider the severity of the offense, the length of the anticipated period during which the investigation would not be able to move forward and the anticipated harm to the suspect.”

Explanatory notes in the memorandum state that it is aimed at “preventing infection of the investigative team, which could harm the capabilities of the police, the military police and the Shin Bet from carrying out their ongoing duties.” The memorandum mentions that the law as it currently stands already permits extending the period of a suspect’s detention irrespective of a lack of progress in an investigation – for example if a suspect is unconscious or if authorities are awaiting the arrival of a key witness from abroad.

The passage of the temporary order is urgent due to the pace at which the coronavirus is spreading. As a result, “security agencies see the need to arrest and question suspects in detention who are sick or in quarantine,” the memorandum states.

The Public Defender’s Office said it has concerns about the legislation. “These arrangements, certainly when taken together, involve considerable infringement on the rights of suspects, detainees and prisoners,” the statement said.

Police patrol the streets to enforce coronavirus restrictions, Mea She’arim, March 30, 2020Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

“The Public Defender’s Office is working on an ongoing basis to ensure the protection of these rights even during this complicated period. We welcome the fact that substantial changes have been made to the legislative memorandum on this subject, which considerably reduce the harm to the rights of detainees and avoid making the obligation to be in quarantine grounds for arrest. At the same time, we believe that the proposal to extend the period when a detainee can be barred from access to a lawyer is a serious infringement on the constitutional right to consult an attorney and, as we see it, the proposed arrangement in this context is exceptional and disproportionate.”

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