Right-wing MKs accused the State Attorney's Office on Tuesday of wasting taxpayers' money and failing to deter other policemen from wrongdoing by paying the damages awarded by courts to plaintiffs who sue officers for exceeding their authority.
After a lengthy discussion in the Knesset Law Committee, its chairman, David Rotem (Israel Beiteinu), who taught law at Bar-Ilan University, told State Attorney representatives that the government may not pay out money for any purpose unless the law clearly stipulates that it must, since the money belongs to the public.
The discussion was prompted by a complaint lodged by the Human Rights in Judea, Samaria and Gaza organization against the government's policy of paying compensation awarded to plaintiffs who sue policemen for behaving improperly toward them.
Representatives of the State Attorney's Office told the committee that the government pays only in cases where it has taken upon itself to defend the policeman in court. If the state agrees to defend the officer (or any other civil servant) they explained, that means that by definition it has accepted vicarious responsibility for the actions of the policeman since he was acting in its name.
The attorneys added that it was a hard and fast rule that if the state declined to represent a civil servant, that automatically meant it would not pay any compensation to the plaintiff awarded by the court.
But during Tuesday's hearing, MK Arye Eldad (Israel Beiteinu) gave examples of three cases involving two policemen, Ch.-Supt. Avi Buchnik and officer Salman Abu Asla, in which the state refused to represent them in court but paid damages of more than NIS 70,000 awarded by the court to the plaintiffs who sued them for improper conduct. Later, he corrected himself, saying there was only one case and not three.
The state also argued that according to the law, the plaintiff may demand in court that the policeman pay the compensation out of his own pocket, even though the state has agreed to represent him, thereby making it clear that it will pay for any compensation.
Rotem ordered the state to examine the examples presented by Eldad and to provide statistics on the number of civil servants in general and policemen in particular who have been sued for damages, in which cases did the state represent the civil servants in general and the police in particular, and in which cases the state paid the damages.