Military Court Lawyers to Slow Down Legal Proceedings

The hearing for three Palestinian minors in a military court in the West Bank went quickly several days ago: Their lawyer pleaded guilty to the charges immediately after the indictment was read, and on the basis of the admission they were sentenced to a number of months in prison.

But when the fourth indictment was read out, against a minor accused of stone-throwing, the lawyer's behavior changed. After another lawyer whispered something to him, he demanded that his client be freed on bail - and the judge accepted his request - even though the prosecution's appeal of the decision was later accepted. As a result, the court and the military prosecutor will spend more time and resources to convict him.

The lawyer who represented the minors was implementing the decision made a month ago by lawyers representing thousands of Palestinians tried every year in the two military courts in the West Bank, mostly on security offenses.

According to the decision, lawyers will now have to insist on utilizing all the legal avenues available and using all the rights granted by law to the defendant. The decision came after the lawyers concluded that their previous policy of reaching quick compromises with the military prosecutor harmed their clients and did not meet the standards of justice and law.

For example, lawyers now demand that indictments be translated into Arabic as a condition for proceeding, a requirement not enforced for a very long time. The lawyers are also demanding copiers to photocopy files, and they have agreed among themselves not to participate in hearings on remands until the end of the proceedings if they have not had time to study the case. The lawyers also oppose that evidence be presented against their clients without the witnesses being invited to testify in court.

Dozens of defense attorneys, Palestinians and Israelis, made the decision in a meeting initiated by the Ramallah-based prisoners organization, affiliated with Fatah and headed by Qadura Fares, himself a former security prisoner.

The decision was made in response to a number of troubling comments made two months ago by the new head of Military Prosecution, Erez Hason.

According to lawyers present at the meeting with Hason, he said that in his opinion the sentences levied by the military courts are not severe enough and he will act to increase them.

The Spokesman's Office for the Israel Defense Forces declined to comment on the content of the meeting with Hason.

The problem is "a lack of uniform criteria in setting punishments in military courts, and discrimination between defendants, which is sometimes determined based on personal relationships with preferences for certain lawyers," Ali Gozlan, an East Jerusalem lawyer, told Haaretz.

"Sometimes it's difficult to understand what is behind the plea bargain: the interest in closing cases as fast as possible, the [heavy case] load, the evidence or the personal relationships between the prosecutor and the lawyer," he said.

The IDF Spokesman's Office said in response: "The level of punishment is set by the military court and not by the military prosecution." The IDF added that "the military strictly keeps to proper legal procedure and defendants' rights are fully protected, with guarantees of proper representation and the right to be heard."