Prosecutors may not close sex crimes cases without speaking to the complainant first, Israel’s state prosecutor instructed on Wednesday, as part of the country's new protocols regarding the treatment of crime victims.
The orders, issued by State Prosecutor Amit Aisman, apply to all prosecutors and include detailed instructions on how to treat victims during criminal proceedings.
While a prosecutor’s main job is to prove the defendant’s guilt in court, or to avoid prosecution when the facts do not warrant it, providing aid and communicating with victims is part of their work too, based on crime victims’ rights.
According to Aisman’s newly issued instructions, if a prosecutor does decide to close a case they must first contact the complainant over the phone, or meet with them in person, and inform them of the decision. Prosecutors must also take the complainant’s meeting preference into account: “When the victim of the crime asks to hold a meeting and not make do with just a phone call, the general rule is to agree to the request,” Aisman wrote.
If a sex crime victim asks that the prosecutor wait in making a decision on whether to try the defendant or close the case, this too should be honored, Aisman said.
Regarding testifying in court, Aisman instructed that in cases of “sex crimes and human trafficking crimes in which the prosecutor thinks testifying in the presence of the defendant might possibly harm the victim of the crime or their testimony, [the prosecutor] will submit to the court a request to hear the victim’s testimony not in the presence of the defendant.”
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The order follows research showing that victims who testify against their perpetrators in court – sometimes including harsh cross-examinations by the defense attorney – may relive their trauma.
Aisman also instructed that prosecutors demonstrate sensitivity toward the complainants by informing them of the filing of an indictment and providing them with contact details of aid organizations that provide relevant resources. Additionally, they must now notify victims if the defendant has been released.
Victims of sex and serious violent crimes must now also be notified of any plea bargain agreements – their preparation and the considerations that led to the agreements. They may then formulate a position to be submitted to the prosecutor within 14 days, Aisman said.
Prosecutors will now have to ensure that a sex crime victim is heard during the evidentiary stage. Aisman said that the court has the authority to instruct the drafting of a document in which the victim describes the harm done to them. “This is an important tool that aids the court in seeing the overall picture of the damage caused by the criminal act,” Aisman wrote.
Attorney Bat-Ami Brot, head of the crime victim assistance unit at the State Prosecutor’s Office, said Aisman’s new instructions represent a major milestone in victims’ rights and in making the legal process accessible and adaptable for victims. The orders help to ensure that their voices are heard during the different stages of the legal process and to best enforce their rights, she added.