Emergency orders for combatting the coronavirus originally included a section allowing courts to conduct criminal proceedings via video conferencing for defendants who are not under arrest or in custody – but it was removed at the direction of Tourism Minister Yariv Levin. After discussions between Levin, Justice Minister Amir Ohana and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, video proceedings will only be allowed if defendants are now in custody.
Levin said the changes are not connected to the case of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been indicted but is not under arrest or in custody. He said that this is his long-standing opinion against holding criminal hearings without the defendant being physically present in court.
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Ohana initially said that Erdan was the one who initiated the new regulations, but later reversed his claim. Erdan said the regulations were written by the Justice Ministry at the request of the Courts Administration.
Levin’s bureau said he “opposed video conferencing in criminal proceedings on principle. Both for proceedings and also for detention. This has been his position for many years, since the idea first came up. At the same time, [Levin] is very much in favor of moving a large part of civil proceedings to video conferences, something that could save precious time for everyone.”
Levin provided documents that he said showed he had opposed such initiatives in the past, explaining that his objection to video conference proceedings is because he believes that limiting a person’s freedom “must be done face to face.” However, the coronavirus crisis has created a situation in which it is dangerous to hold hearings in person, so a minimum of urgent and essential cases must be solved by video conferencing, he said: “The rest can wait.”
Levin’s office said that “Minister Levin reached an agreement just before the [cabinet] meeting with ministers Erdan and Ohana that would limit the regulations to only those who are already coming from detention or imprisonment, similar to the previous regulations that addressed extending detention – in other words, people who come from detention and return to it.”
Levin said he supported the previous regulations because at the time there was no other choice, adding that he should have objected then in order to invoke the principle from the beginning.
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A spokesman for Ohana said that “in light of the reasoned and long-term opposition of Minister Levin to video conferences, but given his agreement to apply it to urgent detention [cases] only – in light of the challenge the Israel Prison Service will have to address, there is an outbreak of coronavirus in its facilities – [Levin’s] proposal that the regulations will apply only to those in custody was accepted, and the agreement of all cabinet ministers was received.”
Erdan did not respond to questions about this report.