Prolonging the Injustice of Unwarranted Detention

Police station commanders must make broad and efficient use of their authority to release suspects from detention when it is appropriate, instead of infringing on these individuals' rights and putting undue strain on the court system.

In 2010 the police were granted the power to release suspects from detention. In every police station an officer was appointed who was authorized to release detainees whom the police had finished questioning, or whom the police wanted to place under house arrest for up to five days.

At the beginning of 2012, a mechanism was even introduced to make it easier for the police to collect bail money. But the annual report of the Public Defender’s Office, and from a query by the Interior Ministry to Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino, it becomes clear that the police continue to hold suspects overnight in a detention cell instead of releasing them.

The law governing detention and the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty requires the police officer in charge to use detention only as a last resort. But the police treat detention as an available and convenient way out, and badly infringe on the constitutional rights of detainees. That is also the reason that 10 months ago, the Courts Administration submitted a query to the police commissioner and warned that detainees’ rights were being compromised. “The police continue to bring detainees to court who could have been released by the officer in charge,” the query stated.

Beyond the injustice to the detainees, the desire to reduce the burden on the courts is not being met. Many judges have noted over the past year the ease with which the police act when it comes to extending detention. Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court Judge Shaul Avinor wrote: “When by law the suspect should be released on bail, he should not be brought the next day to court to submit a request for release.”

Judge Lili Jung-Goffer, deputy president of the Nazareth Magistrate’s Court, wrote: “It is beyond my understanding the reason why a suspect is brought to court, bothering the court, the Public Defender’s Office and the Nahshon [prisoner transport guards] unit, at major expense to the state, when all the conditions are in the purview of a police officer.”

The decision to give a designated officer at every police station the power to release suspects from detention stemmed from an economic consideration. Most people wrongly arrested for one night have the right to be represented by a public defender, and the cost is high; moving the suspect to a detention cell by the Israel Prisons Service and to court also costs money. Wholesale extension of arrests is, therefore, a terrible waste of public money.

Precisely because the arrangement regarding release from detention is a good and efficient one, the conduct of the police is surprising. The police commissioner should direct station commanders throughout the country to make broad and efficient use of the powers they have been given.