AN OVERVIEW OF RECENT CRIME
PREVENTION LEGISLATION IN ISRAEL
Head of Department,
Criminal Law Legislation,
Ministry of Justice
Since the last Report on Crime Prevention Legislation presented by Israel to the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders, conventional criminal legislation has undergone few major changes.
Legislation adopted in the last five years has concentrated on the protection of victims children, helpless people, battered spouses, the mentally ill, etc. The major legislative event was the adoption of the new Penal Law (Amendment no. 39 – Preliminary Part and General Part) 5754-1994, which shall be elaborated on below.
There has also been a steady trend to decriminalize certain acts by deploying a new non- criminal device the civil fine. This device has been adopted in a number of laws dealing with the regulations on corporate bodies, foundations, etc.
A number of bills are still under discussion. Among them: the computer Bill (including sections on offenses, torts, evidence, secret monitoring and search and seizure as they relate to computers); the Police Powers Bill (including a comprehensive reformulation of powers of arrest, release on bail and search and seizure); an amendment to the Secret Monitoring Law, 5739-1979 (including the prohibition of new communication and monitoring technologies). Another bill under consideration concerns special ways of taking testimony from victims of sexual offenses. New legislation is also being prepared on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters between countries which will regulate the new kinds of assistance needed in the fight against sophisticated criminal activities (money laundering, computer crime, etc.).
Recent developments in the peace process have had significant political impact. The possibility of reaching peaceful arrangements with the Palestinians, with neighboring countries still in a state of war with Israel and with other Arab countries, has changed the political atmosphere in the country. To implement the Cairo Treaty, a new law was enacted providing for a wide range of legal assistance in criminal matters between the State of Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
Although Israel has no constitution in the conventional sense of the word, basic human rights, including human rights in the criminal justice system, are recognized both in general legislation and in court decisions. Recently, some of these rights have been formulated by a law of constitutional character, the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.
The New Penal Law
On July 25, 1994, the Penal Law (Amendment no. 39 – Preliminary Part and General Part) 5754-1994, was approved by the Knesset (Israel’s parliament) and will enter into effect a year from that date. This new law systematically and comprehensively consolidates the basic principles of criminal justice which, until then, had been dispersed throughout different sections of the Penal Law, 5737- 1977, and decisions of the Supreme Court handed down over the 46 years of the State’s existence.
An amendment to the Penal Law is now under consideration for the purpose of establishing the rule of diminished responsibility in cases which otherwise would come into the category of murder, an offense carrying a mandatory life sentence.
The Fight Against Terrorism
Two pieces of legislation have been adopted which have a direct impact on the never-ending struggle against terrorism. In 1991, an amendment to the Air Navigation (Offenses and Jurisdiction) Law, 5731-1971, was passed that created the offenses of endangering life and security in airports, liable to a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment. These offenses are added to the existing offenses of acts of terrorism committed on aircraft or against them.
In the same year, Penal Law (Amendment no.33), 5751-1991, was adopted. This amendment created new offenses involving illegal trafficking in arms subject to a maximum penalty of 15 years imprisonment. The amendment also includes reformulated offenses of illegally carrying lethal weapons that are not firearms.
Protection of the Rights of Minors and Helpless Persons and Prevention of Domestic Violence
In order to better protect the physical and mental well being of children and helpless persons, the Penal Law was amended and an offense was created imposing the obligation on all citizens to report to the police or to a welfare officer any instance where a child or a helpless person is being abused by a parent, relative or person responsible for them. Failure to report by certain professionals, who might uncover the maltreatment in the course of their work, is deemed an aggravated offense. Parents are also under obligation to report abuse committed on their child by another family member, not excluding the second parent. (On this subject, see separate articles by Y. Kadman and T. Morag.)
The same amendment created the offenses of acts of cruelty on minors and helpless persons and the aggravated offenses of assault against them. The offense is deemed still further aggravated if committed by a family member or a person responsible for the victim.
Another amendment to the Penal Law established the aggravated offense of publishing pornography where a minor is being made use of for the publication. The amendment also prohibits the participation of minors in pornographic performances.
Israel has recently ratified the convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction, 1980, and is now in the process of passing into law strict rules on the adoption of foreign children by Israeli parents.
Following a Report on Domestic Violence presented by a government committee, the Law for the Prevention of Domestic Violence 5751-1991, was enacted. This law empowers the courts to issue an order against a violent member of the family, restraining him or her from entering the family home or from harassing the victim-relative. The court order may also oblige the offender to seek professional help in order to change the violent pattern of his or her family life. The restraining order may be issued for a maximum of three months, renewable for a further three months.
Also approved was a new law on the treatment of mentally ill persons, establishing rules regarding the treatment of mentally ill suspects and convicts and imposing stronger limits on the forcible treatment of patients and on the kind of treatments that may be applied forcibly.
Rules Governing the Ethical Practices of Public Agencies
In 1992, the Knesset passed a law transferring the investigation of police officers accused of corrupt behavior or of the unjustified use of force from the police to a special independent unit within the Ministry of Justice. This Special Investigations Department will also take charge of the investigation of complaints against agents of the General Security Service.
The Fight Against Drug Abuse
In 1993, the Minister of Health issued regulations under the Pharmacists Ordinance enabling Israel to join the 1971 United Nations Convention on Psychotropic Substances, to which until then Israel had been an unratified signatory. The Knesset approved the Law on the Control of Institutions for the Treatment of Drug Abusers, 1993, which came into effect in October of that year.
A further law passed in 1993 permits the operation of treatment and rehabilitation services and facilities for prisoners of both sexes on Prison Service premises Amendment no.14 to the Prisons Ordinance
(Separation of the Sexes), 1993.
Other items of legislation are at different stages of the legislative process, among them: Regulations on the Transfer of Information which will permit the Anti- Drug Authority to receive and hold information in its Information Center; a law on the laundering of money originating in the drug trade will enable Israel to ratify its signature to the 1988 United Nations Convention.
At the initiative of the Knesset Committee on the Fight Against Drugs, a number of amendments were put forward, among them: a proposed amendment to the Drugs Ordinance; a bill designating all school premises as drug-free areas so that a person found with drugs in his or her possession in the school or on its grounds may, upon conviction, be liable to a five-year imprisonment order; a proposed amendment to the Municipalities Ordinance which will permit the establishment in every municipality of centers for the treatment and rehabilitation of drugs victims; an amendment to the Youth Law (Treatment and Supervision), 1960, enabling babies born with withdrawal syndrome to be declared entitled to state financial support.
Suspended Sentence for Drug Abusers The Knesset is also debating another bill that embodies a new approach to the obligatory activation of a suspended sentence of imprisonment. The bill, which concerns specifically convicted drug addicts who have successfully undergone or are undergoing rehabilitation treatment, lays down that the court will be entitled not to activate the imprisonment and may extend the suspension of the sentence if it is of the opinion that activation of the sentence may cause serious damage to the treatment process and provided that there is no serious danger to the public if the prison sentence is not activated.
Dealing with New Types of Crime
Recently the Penal Law was amended to create an aggravated offense where a crime is committed from racist motives. This new offense is added to the existing offense of publishing racist publications, created in 1986.
A bill on the subject of computers is now under debate in the Knesset. It includes not only penal sanctions for computer crime but also deals with the problem of torts, evidence, eavesdropping, and search and seizure in the context of computers.
The increasing volume of car thefts and other crimes related to vehicle parts is the background to an amendment increasing the penalties for these offenses.
Repeated instances of misconduct by company directors has brought about penal legislation concerning the obligation to disclose information to shareholders.
Maltreatment of Animals
New offenses regarding the maltreatment of animals have been created and include strict regulations on experiments conducted on animals, which not not only prohibit causing pain to animals but also restrict the areas of study permissible for such experimentation.
There has also been an increase in legislation on environmental issues, including the disposal of dangerous substances, the prevention of the misuse of natural resources and of willful damage to the environment in both rural and urban areas. (See article in this Report, by S. Gabbay, on environmental legislation.)
Administrative Release of Prisoners
The problem of overcrowding in prisons has given rise to a bill providing for the administrative release of prisoners when the prison population reaches an unacceptable level of overcrowding. After a special report on the early release of prisoners, a bill is being prepared by the Ministry of Justice dealing with the early release both of prisoners sentenced to a fixed prison term and those sentenced to an unfixed life sentence.
The legislation reviewed in this report reflects a dominant policy trend of adapting existing legislation and creating new legislation to improve and expand the rights of victims of crime, to safeguard the environment and, wherever possible, to decriminalize certain acts.