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Judicial System

Israeli law provided normal guarantees for its citizens against arbitrary arrest and imprisonment. Writs of habeas corpus and other safeguards against violations of due process existed. Confessions extracted by torture and other forms of duress were inadmissible as evidence in court. The Criminal Procedure Law of 1965 described general provisions with regard to application of law, pretrial and trial procedure, and appeal. It supplemented the Courts Law of 1957, which prescribed the composition, jurisdiction, and functioning of the court system and provided details of appellate remedies and procedures.

All secular courts in Israel dealt with criminal as well as civil matters. The magistrate courts decided about 150,000 criminal cases in 1985. The district courts decided about 12,500 criminal cases in the first instance and 3,700 as appeal cases. The Supreme Court decided approximately 2,000 criminal cases of all kinds. The average lapse of time between committing an offense and conviction was nineteen months in magistrate courts and eleven months in district courts.

Punishments for convicted criminals included suspended sentences, fines, a choice of imprisonment or fine, imprisonment and fine, or imprisonment. The death penalty could be imposed for treason or for conviction for Nazi war crimes but, as of 1988, Eichmann was the only person to be executed as the result of a judicial process. Prison sentences were mandatory only for exceptional crimes, such as attacking a policeman. Only a small percentage of criminal convictions actually resulted in incarceration, and sentences were relatively short. In 1986 more than half of the prison terms were for one year or less and 96 percent were for fewer than five years. Sentences by military tribunals were more harsh; terms of fifteen years to life imprisonment were not unusual.

Warrants generally were required for arrests and searches, although a person could be arrested without a warrant if there were reason to suspect that he or she had committed a felony, was a fugitive from justice, or was apprehended in the act of committing an offense. A person so arrested had to be brought before a judge within forty-eight hours; the judge could order the prisoner's release, with or without bail, or could authorize further detention for a period up to fifteen days. Authorization for detention could be renewed for an additional fifteen-day period, but any further extension required the approval of the attorney general. Administrative detention could be used in security-related cases when formally charging a person would compromise sensitive sources of information.

Unless detained for an offense punishable by death or life imprisonment, an arrested person could be released on bail, which could take the form of personal recognizance, cash deposit, surety bond, or any combination thereof. A person held in custody must be released unconditionally if trial had not commenced within sixty days or if it had not ended within one year from the date on which a statement of charge had been filed. Only a judge of the Supreme Court could order an extension of these time limitations.

Any person arrested was entitled to communicate with a friend or relative and a lawyer as soon as possible. In felony cases, arrests could be kept secret for reasons of national security upon request of the minister of defense. Representation by counsel in such cases could be delayed up to seven days and up to fifteen days in terrorist-related cases. Offenses committed by civilians against emergency regulations (which had been in effect since the state of emergency in force at the founding of the nation in 1948) were tried by military courts composed of three commissioned officers. Until 1963 the judgments of such courts were final, but at that time the right of appeal was granted under an amendment to the Military Justice Law. Individuals charged with offenses against the Prevention of Infiltration Law were tried by a military court consisting of a single officer; appeals were heard by a court composed of three officers.

Magistrate court cases generally were tried before a single judge. Cases in the Supreme Court were heard by panels of three judges as were appeals cases in district courts and cases where the maximum sentence was ten years or more. There were no juries in Israeli courts. Persons accused of crimes punishable by imprisonment of ten years or more, juveniles, and persons unable to afford private counsel could be represented by a lawyer appointed by the court. In pleading, defendants could remain silent or could testify under oath in their own behalf, in which case they were subject to cross-examination. They could also make statements upon which they could not be examined.

A special judicial commission headed by the former president of the Supreme Court, Moshe Landau, reported in 1987 that, since 1971, internal security agents of Shin Bet had routinely used physical and psychological mistreatment to obtain confessions. The Landau Commission found that Shin Bet interrogators had, under orders, systematically perjured themselves when accused persons tried to retract their confessions. According to the United States Department of States's Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 1987, the commission set out in a secret annex to the report what it regarded as acceptable physical and psychological pressures that might be exerted in the interrogation of terrorism suspects.

Data as of December 1988

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