New Basic Law on defendant’s rights tops Sa’ar’s list of bills

These are the nine bills and laws that Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar has pushed in his time in office:

Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar is seen pointing at Benjamin Netanyahu's signature on a Likud-sponsored bill to stop Ehud Olmert from being able to form a government, in the Knesset on July 26, 2021. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar is seen pointing at Benjamin Netanyahu's signature on a Likud-sponsored bill to stop Ehud Olmert from being able to form a government, in the Knesset on July 26, 2021.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

There are laws that grab constant headlines because they are intertwined with the political intrigue and drama. Then there are laws which sometimes sail under the radar but substantially change the country in very concrete ways.

Below is a list of nine laws, or bills on the way to becoming laws, which Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar has pushed through during his almost nine months in office.

1. Basic Law for rights during criminal proceedings: This has passed a first reading in the Knesset and is expected to become law over the spring-summer. The rights to a fair hearing and due process both before and during a trial are given the elevated status of constitutionally enshrined principles. These rights are designed to protect a detained person, suspect or defendant from abuse of power by the state and its apparatuses at the time that they are in a weak and vulnerable position.

Also, the right of a defendant to representation by a lawyer in a criminal proceeding will be elevated to a constitutional right, including to advise with a lawyer during the interrogation process. Until now, the above rights had some judicial protections, but did not have full constitutional status. For many, this can be the difference between conviction or acquittal and having a lawyer or not.

2. Disqualifying illegally obtained evidence: This has been passed in a first reading in the Knesset, was originally expected to pass into law on Monday, but now will become law during the Knesset’s May session. It will disqualify evidence obtained illegally by law enforcement, such as barring police from using the “fruit of the poisonous tree” for a later trial. This reform would protect three core values: the purity of the legal process, the right of defendants to a fair hearing and the obligation of law enforcement to act within the limits of the law. This could have implications for future cellphone hacking issues by police and police bending the rules during an investigation in general.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar at the vote for the 2021 State Budget, November 3, 2021 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar at the vote for the 2021 State Budget, November 3, 2021 (credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

3. Cannabis regulations: The rules do not require Knesset legislation, only ministerial approvals and are expected to get approval soon. They will transform the unauthorized self-use of Cannabis (without medical professionals) to an administrative violation in place of a criminal violation, which is a paradigm shift in the handling of the issue. This also means there will also no longer be a criminal record for such violations.

4. Representation for victims of sex crimes: The proposed bill has passed a first reading in the Knesset and grants victims’ legal representation going back to the initial filing of a complaint with the police. It makes state-funded legal representation more accessible so assistance is not limited to those who are economically disadvantaged, and also includes civil proceedings.

The increased legal representation is designed to empower victims of sex crimes to have better guidance and to fully realize their rights in criminal proceedings. In earlier eras, only the state and the defendant had legal representation.

ON A SIMILAR note, new regulations have been issued to facilitate victims being able to testify in court outside of the presence of their alleged attacker-defendant. There is no longer a requirement for a legal opinion by an expert regarding the mental state of the victim for the victim to have the right to testify without the alleged attacker-defendant present. Rather, the victim need only make such a request and it will be granted. Also, preliminary hearings about such requests by the victim can be held on the basis of a written request, without the victim needing to make the request of the court in person.

The purpose of these changes is to reduce the number of obstacles a victim must undergo simply in order to testify in court outside of the presence of the alleged attacker-defendant. All of this is designed to make it easier for victims to testify in court and generally be less fearful of filing a complaint to police in the first place.

5. The law for minimum sentencing for illegal sale and possession of weapons: The law has been passed and sets mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines for illegal weapons crimes to deter potential criminals from involvement in this “plague against the state.” The New Hope party said it has and will continue to act to restore law and order throughout the country and its various sectors.

6. The traffic violations reform: The proposed bill will lead to substantially reducing the volume for what is defined as criminal traffic crimes. The proposed bill moves traffic fines and driving penalty points into faster and more efficient administrative proceedings in place of criminal proceedings. These proceedings will generally not require the driver’s physical presence, providing instead for conducting the proceedings using remote technological means. Traffic violations will be dealt with, but more efficiently.

7. Widening a tax exemption for special needs citizens: New ministerial regulations have already widened a tax exemption to Holocaust survivors, disabled children receiving state aid, grownups with other kinds of medical-disabled status and those receiving state aid (such as to pay for an elderly person’s caregiver).

8. Giving Magistrate Courts some Administrative Court authorities: This bill has passed one reading in the Knesset. Delegating some administrative court authorities from the district courts to the new magistrate’s courts will increase citizens’ access to services and reduce the overwhelming workload burden on the district courts. This will tailor the proceedings to the issues’ unique characteristics and will guarantee that administrative disputes will be addressed more efficiently.

9. The “spring cleaning” reform: Three out of four bills relating to this reform have passed the ministerial committee on legislation, but still require Knesset legislation. They will reduce the burden of bureaucracy and regulations on everyday citizens. In the area of legislation, government authorities will demand fewer bureaucratic approvals, which will save around one billion shekels and millions of days of unnecessary waiting for burdensome approvals.