Israeli Prosecution Ombudsman Warns That Justified Complaints Against Prosecutors Are on the Rise

Some 249 complaints were filed against prosecutors last year, and many point at gov't attorneys committing negligence, cornering witnesses and delaying important decision-making

Israeli prosecution ombudsman David Rozen.
Emil salman

Of the 249 complaints filed against prosecutors last year 14 percent were justified, compared to just 8 percent in 2016. The figures come from the annual report by the prosecution ombudsman.

In 2016 only 223 complaints were filed.

The justified complaints included cases in which, during pretrial meetings to prepare witnesses for testifying, prosecutors led the witnesses “to the point of contaminating their courtroom testimony,” wrote the ombudsman, retired Judge David Rozen.

To help prevent this, he suggested that such meetings be taped.

One complaint Rozen found justified related to former Tel Aviv prosecutor Ruth David’s decision to close a case against the Meuhedet health maintenance organization. “For a prosecutor to close a mega-case like this in just four days, after reading a 160-page opinion, can’t help but raise questions,” Rozen wrote. “It’s hard to believe that in these few days, which included a weekend, the prosecutor studied the key documents and testimony in the case.”

The complaint raised “a real suspicion that a crime was committed,” and it has therefore been referred to the attorney general, Rozen added.

Two other justified complaints involved prosecutorial delays in making decisions.

In one case, a suspect said that three years after he was arrested and denied bail, the prosecution still hadn’t made a decision on his case. He sent four complaints to a district prosecutor, but all went unanswered.

Rozen discovered that the case had actually been closed a year and a half earlier. But the decision was never sent to the police or the suspect.

The other complaint involved an appeal of a decision to close a case due to lack of evidence. It was stalled because the case file got lost and was found only after Rozen inquired about it.

“The district prosecutor’s conduct was patently unacceptable,” he wrote. “It suffered from lack of documentation, loss of the original files, duplicate decisions and work on the very same issue, foot-dragging and failure to answer requests from the appeals department for non-substantive reasons. This conduct caused the appellant great anguish.”

Of last year’s complaints, just 4 percent were against police prosecutors, who file the majority of indictments. Another 5 percent were against the attorney general. The lion’s share, 69 percent, related to the state prosecution.

Most complaints — fully 84 percent — came from people who didn’t have legal representation, while just 13 percent from people who did have lawyers. Six complaints were filed by organizations.

Rozen rejected 46 percent of the complaints out of hand and another 25 percent after investigating them.

The state prosecution said it welcomed his report, since “professional, substantive criticism helps the state prosecution identify problems and deal with them, as it always aspires to do, to promote the rule of law, protect the public interest and preserve the public’s faith in it as part of Israel’s legal system.”

It said it has begun to address some of the issues raised in the report and has introduced new rules to correct others. “The prosecution will study the report in depth, and all its conclusions will be examined in depth,” it added.

The prosecution ombudsman was established in April 2014 by then-Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein and then-Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. In August 2016, the Knesset passed legislation regulating its operations. The legislation barred the ombudsman from investigating systemic issues, restricting him to probing specific complaints.

Rozen took office in January 2017, replacing Hila Gerstl.