Justice Ministry illegally paying cops' fines, NGO charges

Justice Ministry illegal

The Human Rights in Judea, Samaria and Gaza organization charged on Thursday that the Justice Ministry is breaking the law by paying the court fines of policemen who have been sued for causing damages to civilians through indifference or maliciousness. The government has illegally spent hundreds of thousands of shekels on fines levied against individual policemen, Orit Struck, head of the organization, told The Jerusalem Post. Government Services Minister Michael Eitan (Likud), who was chairman of the Knesset Law Committee when an amendment granting partial immunity to civil servants was passed, wrote a sharp letter to Orit Sohn, deputy state attorney for civil matters, charging her with pursuing a policy that "circumvented the law." But Justice Ministry spokesman Moshe Cohen said the State Attorney's Office deals with each lawsuit on an individual basis. Sometimes it agreed to pay the fine and sometimes it did not, he continued. In cases where the Police Investigations Department concluded that an officer had committed a criminal act, it never paid the fine. The amendment to the Damages Law, which grants immunity to civil servants from paying damages in cases of negligence, was approved by the Knesset in 1995. However, during the drafting of the bill and its presentation to the Knesset plenum, Eitan made it clear that the immunity was not total. "The law must be very delicately balanced," he said. "On the one hand, we want to protect the civil servants so that they can make [the right] decisions without being threatened. On the other, there is a danger that from the moment the state gives a blanket insurance to the civil servant, the civil servant will torment the citizen and say, 'What do I care. We are protected anyway.'" Struck used as an example the case of two border policemen, Raphael Cohen and Gal Segev, who were ordered by the Jerusalem Magistrate's Court to pay NIS 4,000 to Nahum Greenblum, who sued them for slapping and choking him and grabbing him by his underpants during a protest near the settlement of Hashmonaim. The state paid the fine. When Struck complained, Sohn wrote that "according to the general principles of the damages laws and according to the Damages Ordinance, the state is responsible for damages caused by its employees and representatives in the context of their work, even if they were negligent. It is in the public interest, and particularly the interest of those who have suffered injury because of an injustice committed by a public servant, for the public authority in whose name the civil servant acted, to take responsibility for the actions of the official rather than avoid it." But Struck pointed out that according to the law, in cases where the state does not inform the court in advance that it assumes responsibility for the civil servant, or the court is not asked or does not grant the respondent's request for the state to take responsibility, the law stipulates clearly that the state may not pay the fine. In many such cases, however, the state does indeed pay the fine, charged Struck.