New bill could keep terror suspects from lawyer for year

Aharonovitch's proposal aims at keeping suspects from organized terrorism activities; ACRI: "Clear contradiction of constitutional principles."

December 13, 2010 19:23
3 minute read.
Illustrative photo

Prison jail generic. (photo credit: Courtesy)

A bill that would allow terrorism suspects to be held for up to a year without access to a lawyer was approved for government support on Monday.

The measure, sponsored by Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch (Israel Beiteinu), would extend the amount of time during which prison officials can deny visits from a lawyer to someone suspected of terrorism, from three weeks to six months at a time, for a total of up to a year.

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Prison officials have had the ability to prevent such visits since 2005, if they can prove that there is “a grave suspicion that meetings with a specific lawyer would allow the implementation of a criminal offense that would endanger the security of a person, the security of the public, the security of the state, or the security of the prison.”

The bill was slammed by civil rights organizations. The Association for Civil Rights in Israel, which filed a memorandum with the Public Security Ministry in opposition to the legislation, said it was in “clear contradiction to constitutional principles.”

“These draconian measures are already extremely harmful to the prisoner’s right to consult with his lawyer of his choice,” said Lila Margalit, an ACRI attorney.

ACRI warned that the bill would open the door to widespread abuse of prisoners, holding them for exceedingly long periods without sufficient evidence that they would use visits from their lawyer to plan illegal acts.

Aharonovitch’s office expressed confidence that the proposal would become law, with the first reading expected within a few weeks. His office cited intelligence reports that found there was a “grave concern” that certain lawyers were taking advantage of meetings with prisoners to coordinate terrorism.

“You can’t exploit democracy for terrorist activity,” Eido Minkovsky, spokesman for Aharonovitch, told The Jerusalem Post.

Meir Indor, head of Al-Magor, an organization that helps the families of victims of terrorist attacks, said, “For us, it’s preferable, even if it causes harm, that one man can’t see his lawyer rather than another man will die.

“It’s like in a war, where you have to tolerate crimes in order to win the war. It could be criminal to keep a suspect from seeing a lawyer, but you have to keep in mind the general goal, which is safety and security against terrorism.”

The decision to deny access to a lawyer suspected of being used to carry out terrorist acts is made by the director of a prison. Currently, a prison director can keep a lawyer away for up to 24 hours, which the new bill would extend to 96 hours.

Now, the commissioner of the Prisons Service, with permission from the attorney-general, can extend the order for five days, and a district court can forbid visits by a lawyer for up to 21 days.

Under the new legislation, the commissioner, with permission, would be able extend the order for up to 14 days, and the court could extend it for six months at a time, up to a maximum of a year.

Minkovsky said Aharonovitch hoped to expand the bill to include withholding lawyers from organized crime suspects who could be passing information to the outside.

The bill was approved by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Monday, which means it has support of the coalition. Though it still needs to pass three readings in the Knesset, this initial support is usually enough to ensure the measure will become law.

If that happens, petitions to the High Court of Justice against the law are expected.

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