The controversial Nazareth District Court decision regarding a man who had raped his stepdaughter for 10 years cast a heavy shadow on Tuesday over the deliberations of the Knesset Law Committee, which held an emergency meeting on the courts' handling of cases of incest.
The decision, which was reported in the media last week, was barely mentioned by name during the meeting, although it was the catalyst for an emergency committee meeting held at the request of Zehava Gal-On (Meretz.)
In the Nazareth decision, a panel of three judges, headed by the deputy president of the Nazareth District Court, Aharon Aminoff, sentenced the defendant to 16 years in jail. The judges also wrote that since the plaintiff had not complained about the stepfather's actions for 10 years, she might have "enjoyed and wanted" the sexual relations.
The state has appealed the allegedly lenient sentence and the comments made by the judges in a case that is due to be heard by the Supreme Court next Thursday.
Meanwhile, Aminoff's colleagues Gabriel (De-Leeuw) Levy and Nehama Monitz have disassociated themselves from the court's comment and maintained that they had objected to it before it was published and were deceived by Aminoff, who had promised them to omit it.
Committee chairman Menahem Ben-Sasson (Kadima) said during Tuesday's meeting that the problem encountered in the courts was not only the matter of lenient sentences.
"Creating a proper climate is part of the issue," he said. "We are confronted not only with lenient sentences but also with inappropriate comments. Some of the things that are said [by judges] are unbelievable."
Yitzhak Kadman, director of the National Council for the Child, presented the committee with a list of examples of cases in which judges handed down overly light sentences to sexual criminals. For example, the Rehovot Magistrate's Court convicted a defendant of committing indecent acts against a young boy over a period of five years and sentenced him to six months of community service; the Haifa District Court sentenced a man who sexually assaulted his six-year-old daughter to 15 months in jail; the Tel Aviv District Court gave a man who committed indecent acts against his seven-year-old daughter a suspended sentence of two years.
Kadman said judges often make comments that indicate they don't understand the nature of sexual crimes. For example, they point out that the suspect does not have a criminal record, a fact that has no bearing on sexual crimes, or that the suspect did not use violence to get his way.
"It's about time that judges realized there are things they don't know; and when you don't know, you should go out and learn." He said judges should receive more training on the matter of sexual crimes.
Kadman also maintained that victims often suffer from protracted judicial proceedings that can last for years. It is not only the suspect who suffers from the lengthy periods over which many of these cases are heard in court, he said.
He also called on the government to hire more prosecutors to deal with sexual crimes and complained that there were too many plea bargain agreements in which the prosecution and defense tied the court's hands by agreeing between them on a lenient sentence for the defendant.
According to Gal-On, more than 50 percent of sexual crime cases end in plea bargain agreements. She charged that "despite the rhetoric, the courts give preference to the interests of the suspect over those of the victim."
Meanwhile, the Courts Administration issued a statement containing a small part of Aminoff's reply to the critics who have blasted him since his judgment was reported in the media and to his two colleagues who accused him of publishing the comment about the victim without their knowledge or agreement.
"I presented [my version of] all the events and details as they occurred to Supreme Court president [Aharon] Barak and Courts Administration director [Boaz] Okun," wrote Aminoff. "I wish to stress that the names of all three judges appear on the ruling and bear responsibility for everything written there. Only by reading the entire decision can one obtain a full picture."
Barak and Okun refused to allow Aminoff to publish the entire letter he wrote to them. Aminoff complained that his colleagues, Levy and Monitz, had leaked their letter to the media in violation of the judges' code of ethics.