Court rejects Knesset plea to suspend hearing on private prison

Petitioners charge that Lev Leviev's plan to construct jail violates Israel's Basic Law.

leviev lev, sharp 298 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
leviev lev, sharp 298 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
A panel of nine High Court of Justices on Sunday rejected a request by Knesset legal adviser Nurit Elstein to suspend the hearing on a petition protesting the establishment of the first privately-run prison in Israel. Elstein asked the court to suspend its deliberations because the Knesset intends to hold a symposium on the entire question of the privatization of prisons in Israel. She said participants in the Knesset-sponsored symposium would discuss the sociological, psychological and other issues relating to the issue. She told the court that the Knesset had not taken these matters into consideration when it passed a law in March 2004 allowing private businessmen to build and manage the first non-state prison. However, she emphasized that she, like the state, did not accept the petitioners' claim that the law violated two constitutional laws. The petitioners, including the Ramat Gan College of Law and retired prison warden Shlomo Tuizer, charged that the law to build a private prison violated the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Freedom and the Basic Law: Government. In January, 2006, the court granted a show-cause order, instructing the state to justify its decision to grant a license to Africa Israel's Lev Leviev who won the tender to build the jail. Later that year, however, it agreed to include the Knesset as a respondent to the petition, even though the petition had not been aimed at it, and then granted its request to suspend hearings because Elstein informed them that two private members' bills calling for the cancellation of the law were to be put to a vote. Since then, however, both bills were defeated. The initiator of one of the bills, Shelly Yacimovich (Labor) attended Sunday's court hearing. Nevertheless, Elstein strongly indicated that the tendency of the Knesset these days was to change - or perhaps cancel - the law. She did not make clear on whose behalf she was speaking, since she does not represent the MKs. However, she insisted that the Knesset would hold a symposium to discuss the research and opinion papers that have been sent to Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik since Itzik invited the public to send their comments and opinions on the issue. There has been vociferous public criticism over the law in which the state grants private individuals the right to use force and to punish prisoners for disciplinary reasons. Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch rejected Elstein's request and the court held a short hearing on the petitions. But in an interim decision, Beinisch added that should there be any changes over the next few months - before the court ruled on the petitions - that would affect the case, the court would hear them. She also hinted that the Knesset had a certain amount of leeway after it reconvenes in the fall to change the current situation because the court would not hand down its ruling on the petitions before then.