Change in immunity law has increased inequality - judge

Justice Dalia Dorner said Tuesday that an amendment to the Knesset Members Immunity Law passed by the previous Knesset had made the inequality embodied in the law greater rather than smaller. Dorner, who spoke at the Jerusalem Conference on Quality Government, sponsored by the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, was referring to an amendment to the law offering immunity for actions by MKs not directly related to their parliamentary responsibilities. The law distinguishes between "substantive" immunity and immunity from judicial action on matters unrelated to the MK's work. While substantive parliamentary immunity cannot be lifted, the law stated that the state attorney could ask the Knesset for permission to lift the immunity of an MK if he suspected him of criminal activity unrelated to his parliamentary work. The Knesset Law Committee and the Knesset plenum were to vote on the request. The procedure, however, became controversial over the years because the Knesset often rejected the attorney-general's request on conduct having nothing to do with the MKs' parliamentary responsibilities. According to an amendment initiated by former Knesset Law Committee Chairman Michael Eitan in the previous Knesset, the onus has been transferred to the suspected MK. The attorney-general may now file an indictment directly to the court. If the MK wants to fight it, he must ask the Knesset to apply immunity to him. But Dorner said that new law provided the Knesset with several criteria for accepting the MKs' request that did not appear in the former law. "The new law widens these criteria endlessly," she charged. For example, it instructed the Knesset to consider whether it had already taken disciplinary measures against the MK. Before the law was amended, in a recent case involving former MK Michael Gorlovsky, who was investigated for double-voting in the plenum, the High Court of Justice ruled that the Knesset could only reject the attorney-general's request to lift his immunity if it was convinced that the request was motivated by government persecution. The law did not offer the Knesset any other criteria for rejecting the request. Eitan, who also participated in the panel, charged that the High Court had left him no choice but to expand the criteria, since the court ruling severely restricted the Knesset's right to decide, even though the law had granted it that right. In essence, charged Eitan, the court had denied the Knesset any right to decide since it could never prove that the attorney-general's request was not made in good faith. "The court," charged Eitan, "did not give the Knesset any room to decide for itself and did not show it any respect." Thus, Eitan decided to include additional criteria in the amendment so that the Knesset would have a certain degree of freedom in deciding whether or not to go along with the attorney-general's request. One of the speakers, journalist Dan Margalit, called for all immunity to be erased and charged that the protection from legal proceedings which it provided encouraged MKs to be corrupt.