Police, NII, judges come under fire in annual ombudsman reports

The National Insurance Institute received the most complaints but the Israel Police outstripped it in the number of justified complaints in 2006.

The National Insurance Institute received the most complaints but the Israel Police outstripped it in the number of justified complaints investigated by the national Ombudsman's Office in 2006, according to the annual report released Monday on complaints filed by private citizens against public organizations. The office is under the authority of State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss. In another development, the Judge's Ombudswoman, retired Supreme Court justice Tova Strasberg-Cohen, released her annual report on complaints filed against judges and found that only 16 percent of the 1,234 complaints that were investigated were justified. Of the 198 complaints that were justified, 56% involved procedures that took too long and delays in handing down decisions. Lindenstrauss dealt with 9,928 complaints filed in 2006, compared with 7,825 in 2005, 6,840 in 2004, 6,129 in 2003 and 6,147 in 2002. Over the five-year period beginning in 2002, the number of complaints filed by the public has increased by 62%. The offices and ministries receiving the most complaints was topped by the NII (909), followed by the police (628), the Justice Ministry (406), the Interior Ministry (405), the Courts Administration (374) and the Finance Ministry (364). Among local authorities, Tel Aviv-Jaffa (204) received the most complaints, followed by Jerusalem (183). The IDF registered 126 complaints, the Clalit Health Fund (168), and the Egged Bus Cooperative (58). However the Ombudsman's Office found that only 32.2% of the complaints were justified. The Ombudsman divided the complaints into four categories: "rejected out of hand," "the investigation was stopped in the middle," "the investigation was completed and the complaint was rejected," and "the investigation was completed and the complaint was accepted." The police department had the most complaints falling in the latter category. The ombudsman dealt with a total of 878 topics (a complaint may include more than one topic), including some left over from 2005. Of these, he reached a final decision on 366 and found that 165 (45.1%) were justified. The ombudsman dealt with 1,252 topics related to the NII, and found that 150 were justified. More than half of the 164 topics included in the complaints leveled against the Israel Broadcasting Authority were found to be justified. According to one complaint lodged against the police, a Rehovot resident was holding a party on December 30, 2005. One of the guests went out to a balcony to get some fresh air, when two policemen who were passing ordered him to go back indoors. The man refused and the police went upstairs and demanded to conduct a search. The owner of the apartment refused to let them in. The police called in reinforcements, searched the apartment and demanded to see the identity cards of everyone at the party. The Ombudsman's Office wrote that police may enter and search a home without a warrant if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that a crime is underway in the apartment, if someone in the home asks for their help or if the police are chasing a suspect who runs into the house. The ombudsman concluded none of these criteria applied in this case, and that the police had not had justifiable grounds to search the apartment. The department has taken disciplinary measures against the officers involved. According to Strasberg-Cohen's report, 1,237 complaints were submitted last year against judges. All but three of them were investigated. Of these, 40% (499) were rejected out of hand and 735 were investigated, including 198 that were found to be justified. Of the justified complaints, 18 involved inappropriate behavior by a judge in the courtroom, eight involved inappropriate statements in written verdicts, 11 involved inappropriate behavior outside the courtroom, 25 involved faults in the administration of a case or the protocol of a hearing, and 26 involved conflicts of interest or failure to allow participants in the trial to express themselves. The other 110 justified complaints involved procedures that took too long and delays in handing down decisions. Strasberg-Cohen presented the report to Justice Minister Daniel Friedmann and Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch. In a joint statement, Friedmann and Beinisch said the report "was extremely impressive and shows the ombudswoman has done excellent work and made a significant contribution to the transparency of the courts, the efficiency of the adjudication process and in identifying and correcting problems."