The Justice Ministry is due to submit recommendations next month for changes to a bill that would grant government inspectors immunity from criminal indictment on grounds of negligence.
The bill, which was drafted by MK Arye Eldad (National Union) and discussed earlier this week in the Knesset Law Committee, is currently being prepared for first reading.
Eldad told The Jerusalem Post he had drafted the bill following the indictment of four Health Ministry inspectors in connection with the Remedia affair.
Eight suspects, including the four inspectors and another Health Ministry official, are currently on trial in the Petah Tikva Magistrates' Court for their alleged roles in a case in which two babies died and 23 others suffered severe or potentially severe harm after being fed formula marketed by the Remedia Company. The packaging stated that the formula included Vitamin B1 (Thiamine) supplement, when, in fact, it did not.
The inspectors included Nasreen Khouri, Yosef Haskel, Berta Shvum and Raisa Parvarov. According to the indictment, they did not attach sufficient importance to the examinations they were supposed to carry out and did not follow the regulations of the National Food Service.
Eldad explained that he had drafted his bill because since the indictment, the threat of criminal proceedings hanging over the heads of inspectors had paralyzed them.
In his explanation of the bill, he wrote, "There is reason for concern that civil servants will be overly deterred and that this could cause significant harm to activities that the government must carry out; [furthermore,] the imposition of criminal responsibility could distort the decisions of civil servants so that they give too much weight to the possibility of being criminally indicted and are therefore unable to make balanced decisions."
Eldad told the Post this was already happening.
"As a result of the Remedia affair, hundreds of tons of medicines have been piling up at the ports because the Health Ministry is afraid to release them," he said. "The inspectors say they'll send them to one lab after another just to be on the safe side."
He warned that despite the urgency of protecting the population against swine flu, for example, the inspectors might procrastinate in releasing vaccinations for fear that they could end up facing criminal charges.
A Justice Ministry official warned that Eldad's proposal was too sweeping and that it would be wrong to release government inspectors from all responsibility for any negligent decision they made.
He suggested the possibility of refining the definition of "negligence" so there might be a distinction between criminal negligence and negligence that was not perpetrated in bad faith.