A welcome move to scrutinize state prosecutors

No bureaucratic entities or professional collectives should be placed above internal scrutiny.

311_gavel (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
‘We find ourselves in a defining moment, at a juncture of fundamental significance,” opined Knesset Control Committee chairman Yoel Hasson (Kadima) last week after it transpired that Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein acquiesced to the notion of placing the actual functioning of the state prosecution under the scrutiny of some form of in-house appraisal.
Precisely what organizational shape this scrutiny will take is still to be determined. Weinstein’s office promised to present a detailed, workable proposal to the committee by mid-May. Most likely, this will be an internal prosecution panel, which will overall assume ombudsman-like responsibilities, not much different from the existing framework that reviews complaints against judges.
This is the first time a clear timetable has been outlined.
Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman had been pushing for the notion for the past two years, ever since he assumed office. The very commitment to a target deadline is what occasioned Hasson’s elation. To put his excitement into context, it must be noted that, as things stand, the prosecution is the one large public institution without either an internal control mechanism or an apparatus to investigate complaints from members of the public.
To date, citizens who feel wronged by the prosecution have no address inside the organization where their grievances might be aired.
This situation is all the more insupportable given the fact that the prosecution, being in the vanguard of law-enforcement and leading society’s due-process defense against miscreants of all varieties, naturally draws so much fire from so many directions. By definition, it deals daily in controversies, and hence controversy obviously adheres to the manner it disposes of its duties.
If the police and the judiciary can tolerate internal reviews, why not the prosecution? CLEARLY, INTERNAL supervision is by definition problematic as it generates charges of officialdom inspecting itself. However, like other governmental agencies, the prosecution will continue to come under the state comptroller’s spotlight. The difference is that this outside evaluation occurs in retrospect, often too late to correct errors.
The two sorts of inspection processes do not negate each other. The prosecution, nonetheless, balked for years at the very suggestion that its decisions might be subject to reexamination.
YET THERE are few organizations that could benefit from critique as much as the prosecution. It had long been accused of both dragging its feet unaccountably in given cases and resorting to quasi-legal shortcuts and machinations.
Cases under lethargic investigation for well over a decade aren’t unknown. Wiretapping and hoarding information illicitly are also not unheard of. The bugging of former Kadima MK Haim Ramon is a case in point.
Then there is the escalating anomaly of plea-bargains.
While deals between the prosecution and defense are justifiable in instances where guilt isn’t readily provable, this has of late mushroomed into a quick and easy contrivance to save work and close files.
Victims and their families are often denied a voice, as in the unaccountable bargain which resulted in a six-month community-service sentence for the drunk driver who left 12-year-old Shahar Greenspan a quadriplegic. In that case, the bargain was struck entirely behind the family’s back.
In another incomprehensible case, the prosecution brazenly ignored the family’s objections. In 1999, three-year- old Aviv Illuz was murdered in a car-bombing that targeted his father Asher in the course of an underworld hit. The prosecution agreed to try Yahya Turk only as an accessory and not outrightly for homicide. Aviv’s parents fought the bargain, but were disregarded. Recently, and very belatedly, the prosecution itself entertained second thoughts and sought to renege on the deal.
However, the Supreme Court judged the prosecution’s change of heart too tardy and refused to allow it to backtrack. One can only imagine, however, how the case would have evolved had the Illuz family been offered the opportunity for recourse to a prosecution ombudsman in real time.
No bureaucratic entities or professional collectives should be placed above internal scrutiny. In the prosecution’s case, exhaustive scrutiny can only ensure more equitable and reasonable conduct, which should go a long way toward restoring the trust that so many have lost in the system.