Israeli Prosecutors Take Too Long to Mete Out Justice, Report Finds

New report reveals 79 percent of criminal cases, including those involving murder and sexual offenses, wait over two years for decision on indictment.

A scathing report issued on Monday by State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss charges that Israeli prosecutors are painfully slow in reaching decisions on criminal indictments.

According to the report, cases involving serious crimes, including murder, sexual offenses and domestic violence, have been among those awaiting disposition. Lindenstrauss wrote in the report that he views these delays as a serious matter both from the perspective of victims for whom justice was being deferred and for the alleged perpetrators who were waiting for their cases to be dealt with by the judicial system.

The comptroller's report noted that 79 percent of criminal investigation files submitted by police were delayed in the prosecutor's office for more than two years, and that between 2004 and 2008, the number of cases awaiting criminal indictment decisions rose by 10 per cent. The comptroller also sampled cases opened in 2006 and found that they were neglected for extended periods or that final decisions on indictments were not being made.

The Justice Ministry said it welcomed the report was but noted that it referred to old cases. "In the years since the period referred to in the report, there has been a dramatic improvement in the handling of criminal cases, following concerted efforts made by the prosecutor's office," it said. "Therefore, the [report] deals with a situation that used to exist at a time that is no longer relevant at this point." The Justice Ministry noted that the prosecutor's office has reduced by more than half the amount of time that passes from the time a criminal investigation file is submitted by police until a decision about pressing charges is taken.

The Justice Ministry said that these improvements had taken place despite new challenges."The prosecutor's office has carried out these impressive accomplishments recently despite the fact that, in terms of numbers, the work load has increased to an unrecognizable extent in recent years, just as it is also reflected in the complexity of the cases and the trials the prosecutor's office conducts," it said.

The actual investigation undertaken by the state comptroller's office was conducted in 2007 and 2008. The probe focused on prosecutor offices in the southern district as well as the Jerusalem and Haifa districts. The final work on the investigation continued through April 2010.

The probe found that between January 2004 and September 2008, police sent the district prosecutors' offices about 192,000 investigation files, which led to the opening of 142,000 criminal prosecution cases. As of September 2008, about 113,000 of these files were closed without charges being pressed. In another 17,000 cases, indictments were filed.

In another 12,000 cases, however, the files remained open but no decision was taken on whether to file an indictment or close the case. As of September 2008, the comptroller's report found, 529 files were awaiting a decision for more than three years, and 711 files were awaiting a decision for two years. Only 21 percent of the files were addressed in any manner.

The comptroller found that among the factors that influenced the decision to close some files was the long duration of time during which the cases were pending a decision.

In the course of an inspection carried out by the comptroller in September 2008, 150 files were found at various district prosecutors' offices that had been opened between 1990 and 2003. The report also noted that some criminal files were never entered into the prosecutor's office's database.