Prosecutorial Oversight Complaints Doubled in 2015

Report reveals justified complaints partly from defendants who were not informed that the cases against them had been closed.

 Accused in court (Illustration).
Eyal Warshavsky

The average number of complaints submitted every month to the state’s commission for prosecutorial oversight last year was nearly double that of 2014, with an increase of 96 percent. This, according to the annual report of the commission, which is scheduled for release Monday.

Because the commission, also known as the ombudsman for the prosecution, began working just 20 months ago, last year was its first full year in operation; hence the relevant comparisons are monthly rather than annual.

Most of the complaints were about delays in informing people that a case had been closed or in giving suspects, defendants and crime victims other information about cases affecting them.

For instance, a man who was questioned in connection to a murder in 1996 was not told the case against him had been closed until 2013. The ombudsman deemed his complaint to be justified.

Another justified complaint came from the mother of a girl who had complained to the police about a boy who was harassing her at home and invading her privacy. The boy was arrested, did not deny the allegation and was slapped with a restraining order. In November 2014, the prosecution emailed the mother that a decision on whether to indict him was expected within a week. But it ultimately informed her only seven months later that the case was closed because the statute of limitations had expired — which would not have happened had the case been dealt with promptly.

The commission received around 45 submissions a month last year, or 540 in all, 375 were classified as formal complaints. Of these, 21 were found to be justified and 43 to be unjustified.

In 101 cases, the ombudsman’s review was halted for some reason, while 136 complaints were rejected out of hand because they related to issues that are out of the commission’s authority (such as the prosecution’s legal judgment). Other complaints are still under consideration.

Aside from dealing with individual complaints, the ombudsman’s office prepared four reports last year on systemic issues: the handling of cases prosecutors decided to close, the handling of cases awaiting trial, respecting the rights of crime victims and the handling of pre-indictment hearings at which suspects can try to persuade prosecutors to close a case. It also prepared an explosive draft report on the prosecution’s conduct toward the Institute of Forensic Medicine (Abu Kabir); the draft has been sent for comment to all the people discussed in it and is slated to be published soon.

Prosecutors are extremely unhappy about the commission. It was established on the basis of a cabinet resolution; legislation to codify the ombudsman’s office is expected in the near future.

Figures in the prosecution have warned that if the anticipated law does not comply fully with the recommendations of the Goldberg Committee, which studied the issue, prosecutors will consider initiating labor sanctions.

The commissioner, Hila Gerstel, opposes the committee’s recommendation to split her office into two: one to handle systemic issues and one to handle specific complaints. If that proposal is enacted, she will presumably resign.

In a statement, the association representing the state’s prosecutors said it regretted the commissioners use of the reports “to smear those she audits instead of using them appropriately.”