Random tax checks in public places are illegal, court rules

Petition filed in 2007 aims to halt surprise examinations at roadblocks in e. J'lem; ACRI says checks are violation of “human dignity, privacy."

checkpoint 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
checkpoint 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
The Israel Tax Authority will no longer be able to stop individuals for random tax checks in public places, the High Court of Justice ruled on Monday, in response to a petition from the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
The petition, filed in 2007, was aimed at halting surprise examinations at roadblocks in east Jerusalem as well as during security checks in malls and parking lots.
ACRI alleged that the random debt checks were in violation of “human dignity, privacy, freedom of movement, and right to due process,” according to ACRI attorney Talia Nir, who filed the petition.
In 2008, roughly 3,000 cars were seized by the Tax Authority or the National Insurance Institute at public places, when their owners were found to have failed to pay their taxes or register their vehicles, according to ACRI.
The organization said tax collectors would stand at roadblocks in east Jerusalem as well as the entrance to mall parking lots, and check drivers as they were stopped by the police or security guard. If a driver was found to be in debt to either institution, they were forced to pay the debt on the spot or forfeit their car.
The Tax Authority said it had stopped random debt collection checks since the court had put a conditional halt on the practice while the petition was being considered.
“It is understood that the final ruling by the High Court determines that there is no statutory authorization for using checkpoints for collection proceedings, and therefore they will not be used as such by the Tax Authority,” said a Tax Authority spokeswoman.
ACRI pointed out that sometimes the tax debt was due to misunderstandings, and in some instances the system had not been updated to reflect recent payments.
“When the debtor is stopped at a roadblock, with all of his belongings spread out on the side of the road, his options are limited, as is his ability to get help from his family or friends,” the organization said.
The court agreed with ACRI’s assessment.
“The existence of non-regulated tax debt collection strips the debtor of his rights,” the High Court said in its decision.
The petition was originally filed to combat the tax collectors’ presence at east Jerusalem roadblocks, which ACRI alleged was a racist practice, as roadblocks primarily target Arabs.
During the hearings, however, it was discovered that the Tax Authority was using the same procedure all over the country at malls and parking lots. Of the 3,000 cars confiscated because of debts in 2008, nearly a third were confiscated at parking lots.
Under the court’s decision, all random public tax collections will be stopped.