A controversial bill to give Israeli police less of a say in the prosecutorial process following criminal investigations was approved by the coalition-controlled Knesset Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday.
While currently the police do not make formal recommendations for or against indictment, the proposed law would also eliminate the summaries of the evidence they provide to prosecutors, which have an influence on their decision whether to seek indictment.
Proponents of the legislation argue that it will reduce the pressure on prosecutors to file charges if they do not have to contend with investigators’ notes, which tend to highlight the strengths of the cases against the accused.
The bill, proposed by Likud MK David Amsalem, comes in the midst of ongoing investigations into alleged corruption in the Netanyahu government, and has been seen as part of the prime minister’s campaign to strike back at those whom he has accused of conducting a “witch hunt.”
In yet another leak on Sunday, Channel 2 news said that police were set to question Netanyahu again later in the day in connection with the investigations.
Senior law enforcement officials besides the police have voiced opposition to, or reservations about, the bill.
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, chairwoman of the ministerial committee, said the bill will undergo significant changes before it comes to a vote in the Knesset plenum. It was reportedly likely that a revised draft would only ban publicizing the contents of an investigation’s summary, but that the relevant officials would continue to be furnished with police summaries.
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud) is reportedly against the bill:
“There is no way to finish an investigation and transfer the file to prosecutors without the investigators attaching to it their professional opinion and their assessment regarding the evidence they gathered,” he said, according to Channel 2.
State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan was even more emphatic. “As far as I’m concerned, there is significance to police recommendations,” he said. “I want to hear them because they were involved…. I don’t see any value in silencing the police.”
Regarding the vexed issue of leaks about ongoing investigations, Nitzan said it won’t make any difference.
“Whether or not there is a written recommendation won’t make any difference if it is leaked, and we need to fight with all our might against leaks,” Nitzan said. “You can’t rule based on the few cases that were leaked when there are tens of thousands of cases.”
Nitzan reiterated, to dispel an erroneous report that circulated last week, that under current procedures police don’t recommend whether or not to file an indictment, but rather inform prosecutors of the body of evidence. Without that advice, prosecutors will have to read in detail the material from each case in order to formulate an opinion, work that will require hiring many more attorneys, he said.
“The bottom line is I will need another 100 positions,” Nitzan said.
“I also don’t see the point of the proposed bill,” he continued. “It will cause a tortuous legal process for the suspects and the plaintiffs… [and] The public has the right to know if police believe there is a body of evidence.”