Ministers Approve Bill Mandating Life Imprisonment for Terror Acts

Under the new bill, 'murder will be defined as murder and killers will be punished,'says Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked.

Olivier Fitoussi

The Ministerial Committee on Legislation Sunday approved a bill mandating life in prison for terrorists who kill innocent civilians. The bill will now go to the Knesset to be voted into law.

The proposed legislation, which seeks to reclassify murder offences and their punishments, proposes a new scale for crimes involving homicide. Specifically, it proposes to add a fourth level – “murder under aggravated circumstances” – to the current law.

Current Israeli law recognizes three degrees of homicide – murder, manslaughter and wrongful death (as a result of negligence.) "Murder under aggravated circumstances" would apply to acts of terrorism, the murder of helpless victims, the killing of minors by those responsible for them and particularly cruel murders, such as so-called family honor murders.

The sentence for aggravated murder would be mandatory life imprisonment, according to the bill.

One step down on the scale would be "basic murder," for which a life sentence would be possible but not mandatory. It would have to involve criminal intent or apathy toward the results of the defendant's actions.

The current crime of manslaughter would become "murder with limited responsibility" under the new bill – homicide which meets the criteria of basic murder but takes account of abuse by the victim. It would carry a sentence of 20 years imprisonment.

At the bottom of the new scale would be "unintentional murder" (or "involuntary manslaughter" in some jurisdictions) with gross or ordinary negligence. It would carry a prison sentence of 12 years, three in prison and five suspended.

The bill was drafted during the previous Knesset session by then-justice minister Tzipi Livni. The current minister, Ayelet Shaked, decided to bring it to the cabinet for approval following the death of Alexander Levlovich, who was killed when his car was stoned on the eve of Rosh Hashana. His killers were charged with manslaughter, rather than murder.

"Wide definitions are problematic," Shaked said Sunday. "The current definitions of murder challenged the legal system and often caused problems. Changing the scale will oil the wheels of justice – murder will be defined as murder and killers will be punished."

The new bill is based to a large extent on the findings of a committee headed by Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, which were submitted in 2011.