(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Justice Ministry prosecution oversight “czar” David Rozen made an unusual public call to the Knesset on Tuesday to make him independent of the Attorney-General’s Office, as part of his annual report.
His report and criticism could take on extra significance in light of the discovery that a government lawyer and a judge overseeing the Case 4000 probe of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu improperly coordinated aspects of detention hearings via WhatsApp.
Rozen – who as a judge in the Holyland real estate corruption affair put former prime minister Ehud Olmert behind bars – has oversight powers regarding the prosecution, but the attorney-general can overrule his recommendations.
For example, if Rozen finds a prosecutor or prosecution-wide conduct to be problematic and recommends action against prosecutors or changes to prosecution policy, Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit can veto by saying that the issue is within prosecutorial discretion.
This is true even in the event of an acknowledged error, provided that Mandelblit believes that the error was made based on reasonable judgment and keeping in mind that often prosecution is more of an art than a science.
Those defending Mandelblit’s veto power say it is critical, and that without it prosecutors would act less independently and pursue corruption and other issues less aggressively, worrying more about being second-guessed.
Rozen said that Mandelblit’s veto deprives his recommendations of any real significance and makes light of the idea of oversight, since Mandelblit himself is often making prosecutorial decisions and would have a conflict of interest in ruling whether to accept criticism of his actions.
His report found that around 14% of the complaints filed against prosecutors in 2017 were found to be justified, an increase over 2016. On the other hand, fewer complaints, 356, were filed.
Rozen complained that the prosecutors union’s public campaign against his office might have reduced public trust in the system of filing complaints.
Moreover, Rozen said that he should be allowed to open probes on his own even without a specific complainer, if information came to his attention that justified such action. He also said that NGOs should be allowed to file complaints on behalf of victims where the victims might be too intimidated or otherwise unable to stand up for themselves.
Finally, Rozen continued his criticism of prosecutors trying to direct and influence prosecution witnesses, especially in light of a past scandal in which he found that prosecutors improperly pressed what were supposed to be objective medical experts to point an accusatory finger more strongly at a defendant in a controversial case.
The prosecution spokesman responded that it had already corrected many of the issues addressed in the report, and that other issues would be carefully reviewed.