Judges Divided Over Whether to Hold Hearings During Prosecutors' Strike

A prisoner yesterday saw his furlough delayed because no representative of the prosecution was in court, in the first of what may be many troubling consequences of the strike by government attorneys that began yesterday.

The strike is expected to continue today.

Salameh al-Danfiri, who is serving a five-year sentence, came to the Be'er Sheva District Court to appeal the Prison Service's decision to stop granting him automatic furloughs, and to instead condition his leaves on prior approval by the police.

Danfiri's attorney, Shimon Tourgeman, argued that the court should hear the case despite the prosecution's absence, as a prisoner's rights should not be violated just because prosecutors are exercising their right to strike.

But Judge Shlomo Friedlander disagreed and postponed the hearing, meaning Danfiri will remain in jail.

"It's not possible to honor the right to strike without paying the societal price it entails, which is that recipients of certain services do not receive them because the service provider is on strike," Friedlander wrote.

"It sometimes happens that a person who urgently needs to go abroad finds himself stuck in Israel because of an airport strike. And it sometimes happens that a prisoner who has an urgent desire to go on furlough to celebrate a holiday that starts today [Id al-Adha] finds himself barred from realizing this hope because of a strike by prosecutors who were supposed to take part in the hearing," he wrote.

Tourgeman promptly appealed to the Supreme Court, and later yesterday, Justice Edna Arbel ordered the prosecution to respond, hinting that if it failed to do so, she would accept the appeal.

But not all judges agreed with Friedlander's decision: A hearing on a major criminal appeal, by an organized crime ring from Jaffa against their conviction, took place as scheduled at the Supreme Court yesterday despite the prosecution's absence.

"There's no prosecution due to the strike," commented Justice Elyakim Rubinstein at the start of the hearing. "But since this is an appeal, where the material is in writing, we will hold the hearing. Later, the prosecution can review the protocol, and it will have all the [written] material that was submitted."

"If the strike continues beyond the dates scheduled [for the case], a date will be set for the prosecution to respond," he added.

Similarly, Nazareth District Court Judge Avraham Avraham held remand hearings as usual despite the prosecution's absence, saying he could not justify letting the strike undermine a detainee's right to freedom when he in any case had all the material he needed to make a decision.

And Central District Court Judge Avraham Yaakov released an American tourist who had been detained after being denied entry to the country, saying her detention warranted hearing the case despite the prosecution's absence.

But Tel Aviv District Court Judge Zvi Gurfinkel, like Friedlander, postponed all his cases, saying the court "has no right to serve as a means of breaking the strike by deciding to hold hearings."

Ofra Edelman contributed to this report.