Israeli Minister Pushes Bill to Block Detainees From Meeting Lawyers, Citing Coronavirus

The legislation advanced by Public Security Minister Amir Ohana permits remote meetings if there is a fear of infection; the public has only two days to comment on the expedited legislation

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Amir Ohana at the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020.
Amir Ohana at the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana is advancing a bill to prevent detainees and prisoners from meeting with their lawyers face-to-face, saying he seeks to prevent a coronavirus outbreak at military prisons.

Ohana, who as justice minister was seen as an enforcer for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is trying to push the legislation through using a fast-track process. The public has only two days to consider an early version of the bill and raise objections.

A month ago, Haaretz first reported that such legislation was in the works, requiring conversations by video conferencing or telephone.

The legislation, which would be valid for one year as an emergency regulation, lets the public security minister keep lawyers away from their clients on the advice of the prison service chief or the police commissioner, in consultation with the justice minister.

The state would have to provide the technology to allow remote meetings between prisoners and their attorneys.

The heads of prisons or police stations would not be permitted to record the conversations, which would have to take place “under conditions that guarantee their secrecy.”

“In this way, the balance will be maintained between the right of prisoners and detainees to consult with their attorney for professional advice and the important public interest of preventing coronavirus infection, while keeping prisoners, detainees and prison service officials and the police healthy,” according to the draft bill and its explanatory notes.

It adds that if the minister forbids family visits, “the option of providing technological means as an alternative to visits will be considered.”

For its part, Ohana’s office said it was not imposing a hard line.

“The general trend has been to ease restrictions, including in the current legislative memorandum …. The emergency regulation authorizes the minister to declare an emergency situation and prevent meetings only given a second wave [of the pandemic], subject to an opinion by the Health Ministry on recommendation of the prison service commissioner and after consulting with the justice minister,” Ohana’s office said in a statement.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn of Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan heads the Ministerial Committee for Legislation, which will meet Sunday, but Netanyahu's Likud party holds veto rights regarding the advancement of legislation at the panel.

Another bill expected to come up for the committee’s approval Sunday aims to expand the government’s authority to place limits on the public to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This bill has also gone through an expedited process; the Prime Minister’s Office gave the public just three days, including the Shavuot holiday and the following Shabbat, to file objections.

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit rejected a request by MK Merav Michaeli (Labor) to extend the period for raising objections by two weeks. But amid criticism, the Justice Ministry extended the period to a week, which ended Thursday night.

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