Witness for the Prosecution: Lawmakers Slam New Comptroller Who Won't Hear Public Complaints

Proposal calls for the new office to be headed by a prominent legal figure who would be subordinate to the attorney general.

On Monday, Knesset members lashed out at a Justice Ministry proposal to create a watchdog for the state prosecutor's office, charging that ordinary citizens would be barred from filing complaints to the new ombudsman.

Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein presented the proposal to the State Control Committee on Monday. As previously reported in Haaretz, it calls for the new office to be headed by a prominent legal figure who would be subordinate to the attorney general.

The ombudsman could initiate his own investigations into the prosecution's work, as well as that of police prosecutors. In addition, the attorney general, state prosecutor and head of the police prosecution department would be able to request him to investigate the conduct of particular trials, including pending court cases.

However, neither the parties to a case, crime victims, lawyers or other ordinary citizens would have the right to ask the ombudsman to look into a specific case. That right would be reserved for the attorney general, the state prosecutor and the head of the police prosecution department.

Deputy attorney general Orit Koren helped draft the proposal and told the committee that allowing the ombudsman to investigate specific cases at the request of ordinary citizens would undermine prosecutors' independence, and could even lead to them feeling persecuted. Therefore, only senior legal officials should be allowed to request such a probe.

Attorney Boaz Goldberg, head of the prosecutors' union, added that criminal defendants might flood the ombudsman's office with complaints and thereby intimidate prosecutors.

But Knesset members were unconvinced. "What will you tell the public? 'You can't complain. Write a letter to the attorney general and he'll decide,'" asked committee chairman Roni Bar-On (Kadima ). "If we don't open the ombudsman's office to the public, we won't have improved anything. How will you earn the public's trust if you say the public isn't a player? You can't erect a wall. It's clear that the public shouldn't interfere with the judgment of the prosecutor who's sitting with the evidence, but the public does want to know how decisions are made."

MK Uri Ariel (National Union ), who joined with other MKs to sponsor a private member's bill to create an ombudsman for the prosecution, said that if Weinstein's proposal isn't amended to allow ordinary citizens to file complaints, he will proceed with his own bill, which does allow such complaints.

"By barring the general public from complaining, you aren't promoting public trust, you're distancing it," he said.

Bar-On also warned that the committee might submit its own legislation if Weinstein doesn't correct this problem in his final draft, which is due to be submitted next month.

Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, vice president of the Israel Democracy Institute, told the panel that he also thought ordinary citizens should be able to complain - first and foremost because that would give the ombudsman information about what is actually happening in the prosecution.

State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss had his own gripe about Weinstein's proposal. While Justice Ministry officials held 14 meetings on the proposed new ombudsman's office, he told the committee, they didn't invite officials from the comptroller's office to a single one.