Traffic Court Reform Would Give Priority to Serious Cases

Judges, prosecution, police team up in effort to lighten courts' workload.

The traffic courts revolution is kicking off: Judges will spend 1.5 days a week handling high-priority cases; the state prosecution will take fewer cases to court and try to reach more plea bargains; and the police will change citation policy for less serious offenses.

This is part of an effort to free up the bottleneck in the Israeli court system and the traffic courts in particular. Traffic court judges handle an average of 3,583 cases a year, and no preference is given to serious cases, which sometimes take more than a year to be heard.

Yaakov Neeman (Emil Salman)
Emil Salman

Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, State Prosecutor Moshe Lador, Courts Director Judge Moshe Gal and the head of the Israel Police's Traffic Division, Major General Bruno Stein, met at the beginning of the month to finalize the reform, which is slated to go into effect over the coming months.

Meanwhile, the Transportation Ministry is working on a number of legislative amendments that will place more of an emphasis on serious traffic offenses.

The reform will introduce a rating system that gives priority to serious cases, which will be marked with a red sticker to differentiate them from less serious offenses. "Red" cases will include those where a driver's license has been suspended for 30-90 days due to speeding, an accident involving casualties or property damage, driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or driving an unroadworthy vehicle.

Under the reform, judges will spend 1.5 days a week hearing the red cases. The police and state prosecution will also lessen the load on the courts to enable traffic court judges to handle 75 cases a week.

State Prosecutor Lador stated during the summary meeting at the beginning of the month that in an effort to free up the traffic court judges' schedules, the state will file fewer cases and try to reach more plea bargains with offenders.

Also as part of the attempt to promote plea bargains, Justice Minister Neeman suggested taking a stricter approach toward individuals who choose to take their cases to court rather than accept a plea bargain. Neeman recommended making fines five times higher for people who take their cases to court and lose. But his proposal has met with criticism from Justice Ministry officials who believe this would be disproportionate and could be conceived as an attempt to block access to the courts.

For their part, the police will increase their enforcement of the so-called red offenses and issue directives regarding changes in ticket policy for less serious offenses such as insurance and license documentation problems. Over the next six months, the police prosecution will also try to reach plea bargains on less serious offenses in order to reduce the number of cases waiting for trial.

The police prosecution will also issue instructions to dismiss citations issued contrary to the new policies and show flexibility and leniency when it comes to pending cases involving minor offenses.

Another part of the reform concerns changes to the traffic court system itself: Under the plan, a traffic court president will be appointed to assume responsibility for the courts in his/her specific district. Currently, the traffic courts are overseen by deputy presidents who are subordinate to the presidents of the regular magistrate's courts.

For the Courts Administration, the change is expected to help streamline the courts' work, reducing the backlog of cases, and facilitate better working procedures with parties such as the police and the state prosecution.

Meanwhile, Transportation Ministry officials are working on legislative amendments that would increase punishments for so-called red offenses. The plan is to have these amendments passed during the Knesset's upcoming winter session.