Dr. Menahem Horowitz,
Institute of Criminology, Faculty of Law,
Hebrew University, Jerusalem

Legal Representation of Juveniles in Criminal Proceedings

Five years ago, 95% of all juveniles appeared in Juvenile Courts, or higher courts (District Courts) sitting as Juvenile Courts, without legal representation.

In the spirit of Article 40 of the convention on the Rights of the child, ratified by Israel in 1991, the Ministry of Labor and Social Affair’s Juvenile Probation Service, Defence for Children International and the Jerusalem Council for Children and Youth have collaborated to provided some juveniles legal assistance although shortage of funds has restricted this aid to much less than the amount needed. In the Administered Territories, the NGOs have worked in partnership with a Palestinian group

(DCI Palestine).

In Israeli law, in cases where a defendant appears unrepresented, the court must appoint an attorney for the defence if the defendant is charged with murder or any offense punishable by life imprisonment or more than 10 years imprisonment, or if the defendant is deaf, mute or blind, mentally retarded or mentally ill. Under the Youth Law (Trial, Punishment and Modes of Treatment) 1971, a Juvenile Court may appoint a defense lawyer if it considers it to be in the defendant’s best interest. A government- appointed committee including representatives of the above-mentioned NGOs is now considering a proposal to require by law the provision of legal aid to all juveniles appearing in criminal proceedings who meet certain criteria.

Youth Detention Centers

The INP has responsibility for all detention facilities in Israel, including for juveniles. There are four of these latter and also separate juvenile detention quarters in some police stations. A minor (a child or youth under 18 years of age) can only be held in custody if separated from adults. A minor under 14 years of age can only be held in detention, without a court order, for up to 12 hours and, if over 14 years of age, for up to 24 hours. The police must inform the parents of the arrest without delay. Should this be impossible, or if there is danger to the minor, a probation officer must be informed.

For some youths, detention separation from their family, police interrogations, harsh conditions in the detention facility, the cutting off of alcohol and drug supply will send them into personal crisis. Some may be suicidal or be in danger of sexual and/or other victimization. The needs of the police for security and investigation may clash with the needs of the young detainee for a therapeutic approach and the preservation of links with the outside world. The role of the social worker bridges between the two needs.

Probation Officers regularly visit minors in detention and in one facility they train and supervise volunteers to participate in this visiting work. In the Tel Aviv Juvenile Detention Center, the largest in Israel, a probation officer has begun to take on the functions of a social worker.

The principles of cooperation between him and police and facility staff have been drawn up by the INP and the Chief Probation Officer. It is part of his duty to ensure that the youngsters are accorded their legal and administrative rights but, over and above this, his presence alone modifies the behavior and attitudes of facility staff towards the young detainees.

Children’s Rights Shop

In one of Israel’s largest cities, Haifa, at the end of 1993, the Israeli branch of Defence for Children International opened an experimental Children’s Rights Information Center. Adapted from a Dutch model, it takes the form of a street-front ‘shop’, which children can just walk into and request the help they need. Alternatively, they can contact Center staff via its telephone "hotline."

The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children should be helped:

– to express their opinions and be heard in matters affecting their close interests (Article 12);
– to obtain relevant information (Article 13).

Children may face a number of legal problems living with divorced parents, exploitation by employers, expulsion from school, illegal punishment, falling victim to consumer fraud in which they may want correct information or the advice, assistance or mediation of an independent professional.

The Haifa ‘shop’, taking care not to duplicate existing services and indeed to collaborate with them as far as possible, tries to meet all such requests. The design of the premises permits children to be interviewed in privacy. In suitable cases, Center staff will accompany the child or youth to discussions with family members, employers, police or school authorities to help them explain their point of view, or they may do this in writing.

Haifa has many recent immigrants from Ethiopia and the former USSR, and also a large Arab population, and the Center is making efforts to reach out to these groups. Center professionals are also training suitable volunteers, from all population groups, to help them in their work. In its first three months, the shop’ has already received several dozen requests for help. It may be said that the project is "children’s rights in action" and not only norms in statutes and conventions.

Mediation the Juvenile Offender and his Victim

An experimental project of the Beer Sheva Juvenile Probation Service attempts to bring together the offender and his victim in an ‘educational’ process that recognizes that both may need rehabilitation.

The thinking behind the project is that an offense creates a conflict between the offender and the victim or victims, and in some cases the victims’ family and friends too. The offense is considered "an attack on the social order" and the State therefore takes over the investigation, prosecution and punishment of the offender. The victim, is left the "forgotten Cinderella of the judicial process." The innovation of this project is to combine the treatment of both offender and abandoned’ victim. Together, via a process of mediation, they are expected to find a resolution of the conflict between them.

In the Beer Sheva project, 50% of the victims rejected the invitation to such mediation. (Where the victim is a public agency or institution, such as a school, a representative might be invited.) Some would like to forget the incident or have only negative feelings for the offender.Others are only interested in insurance compensation. Those who accept meet with the mediator/probation officer to clarify their attitudes toward the offender, their motivation in agreeing to the mediation, their expectations from it and the extent of the damage, both material and emotional, caused by the offense. The selection of offenders is contingent on the nature and gravity of the offense, the age of the victim and on whether there is an identified victim at all.

After preparation of both parties, the mediation proceeds. The mediator tries to help the offender see the victim as a person and take active responsibility for the offense he committed. The process often makes use of educational tools such as role play and group sessions. The offender is expected to make compensation and/or apology. Beyond this, the victim should receive understanding for loss of status, shame and fear.

Sometimes the stigma of being a victim is more damaging than the physical damage caused. The process will conclude in a written agreement signed by both parties and the parents of the juvenile offender.

It must be emphasized that the mediation does not replace the judicial process before the Juvenile Court or the power of the police to close a file under appropriate conditions. Yet a successful mediation will influence the probation officer’s recommendations to police and court. This might well be a factor to persuade the offender to collaborate with the mediation. It might be argued that It moderate pressure" has been brought to bear and that the mediation constitutes treatment in an authoritarian setting. Experience has shown that both the courts and the police accept the mediation outcome and incorporate it in their decisions.

Begun in 1994, the project was applied during that year to only a few dozen cases. It will be enlarged in 1995 and, if successful, may be replicated in other parts of the country.