The Knesset Law Committee on Tuesday began work on preparing revolutionary legislation aimed at establishing a unified code of sentences for crimes.
The aim of the government-initiated legislation is to solve the problem that arises when different judges hand down widely varying punishments to offenders who have committed similar crimes.
According to the explanation accompanying the proposal, the bill is the product of a committee headed by former Supreme Court justice and ex-state comptroller Eliezer Goldberg (now the Judges' Ombudsman), which investigated the problem more than 10 years ago.
"The context for appointing the committee was the existing legal situation in which the judge's authority to punish and his power of discretion are very wide, while, on the other hand, he lacks almost any guidelines," the explanation states.
As things stand now, most crimes on the statute book include only a maximum punishment, which means that a judge may hand down that punishment or any lesser one. There are only a few cases, mostly involving sexual offenses, where the law also includes a minimum punishment which the judge may not, except in unusual cases which he must explain, go below.
The government bill also sets down for the first time in law the aim of the punishment. Legal theory offers several possibilities. The most common idea is that the punishment must be appropriate to the crime. This, in essence, is punishment based on the value of justice.
The other aims are essentially utilitarian and future-oriented - deterrence, rehabilitation of the criminal or protection of the public.
In its bill, the government placed justice, that is, the principle that the punishment must fit the crime, as its supreme value.
A leading criminologist, Hebrew University professor Leslie Saba, told the committee that research backs the government's choice. Since the 1970s, he said, it has become widely accepted in academic circles that there is no way of treating or incarcerating a criminal that guarantees he will not return to crime once he is released from jail.
Saba added, however, that research has also shown that adding more years to a prison sentence does not make a difference, either, as long as the criminal is forced to spend some time in jail.
The question of how stiff recommended punishments for various crimes should be will not be determined by the current legislation. The bill calls for a special committee to be established to determine the recommended sentences.
One of the key questions regarding this bill is whether it should apply to all convicted criminals. One participant at the meeting, attorney Yifat Boyar of the National Council for the Child, asked that juveniles be excluded because not all of the factors that apply to adult criminals apply to them.