The Right to See a Lawyer

Under the guise of security, this basic right is withheld from detainees, as six innocent Arab Israelis learned first-hand last month.

Scene where Shelly Dadon was murdered, May 2014.
Scene where Shelly Dadon was murdered, May 2014. Gil Eliahu

The murder last month of 20-year-old Shelly Dadon from Afula raised a nationwide furor. The fear that it was committed by terrorists or by an Arab with political motives took hold in the police and the Shin Bet security service. Haaretz’s inquiry found that shortly after the murder the security forces arrested six suspects — Arab Israelis, some of them minors — on suspicion of being involved in the crime. The detainees were held in custody for a week without being allowed to see a lawyer and one of them says they were not even told what they were suspected of.

Although the investigators had no clear evidence of a political motive for the murder, or of the six suspects’ involvement in it, the law enabled their continued incarceration in these conditions. Israeli law permits preventing a person suspected of security offenses from seeing a lawyer for up to 10 days, which can be extended with the court’s approval up to 21 days. In the end the suspects were freed without being charged.

This affair sheds a light on the profoundly problematic character of the law. The investigation of a shocking murder of a young woman is of major importance and the police must act vigorously to bring the murderers to justice. But this investigation too must be conducted while preserving the suspects’ rights. After all, they may – as it transpired in this case – be innocent. Preventing them from meeting a lawyer and receiving adequate legal consultation is an infringement of the suspects’ basic rights to legal consultation and representation.

The High Court of Justice has also ruled in the past that a detainee’s right to meet his attorney is a basic right. The court ruled that every order banning such a meeting must be given only after an examination of each detainee’s individual circumstances and that such requests should be granted sparingly.

“Preventing a meeting of a detainee with his attorney,” wrote Justice Aharon Barak in 1993, “is a severe infringement of the detainee’s right. This infringement is tolerable only when it is a vital security need and imperative for the investigation.”

The law enables suspending a suspect’s meeting with his lawyer “in usual cases” for 48 hours under special circumstances, like fear of obstructing the investigation and preserving human life. But as far as suspects of security offenses are concerned, the authorities are far less vigilant about safeguarding their rights. This case, in which the breach of human rights was made with a dubious security excuse, is further proof of this.