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Israel: Prohibition of Prisoner Meetings with Specific Lawyers

(Oct. 5, 2011) On August 3, 2011, the Knesset (Israel's Parliament) passed an amendment to the Prisoners Ordinance (New Version) Law 5731-1971. The amendment adds an additional ground to a list of grounds established in a 2005 amendment on which meetings between a prisoner and a specific attorney may be blocked. According to the 2011 amendment, a prisoner-attorney meeting will be prevented if 1) it would facilitate the transfer of information among prisoners or between them and external elements, and 2) there is a suspicion that the transfer of information is connected to promoting the activities of a terrorist organization or is conducted under its direction.

The Law recognizes the right of a prisoner to meet with his attorney in order to receive professional services. It further guarantees that an attorney-prisoner meeting will be conducted in private and under conditions that guarantee secrecy in the exchange of any oral or written communications. In 2005, the Knesset passed an amendment that authorized the blocking of meetings between a prisoner and a specific attorney based on a “real suspicion” that the meeting would facilitate the carrying out of an offense endangering the safety of any person, the public, the state, or the prison.

According to the 2011 amendment's explanatory notes, the language on transfer of information in connection with a terrorist organization was added to the Law based on the experience gained by the Prisons Service and the Defense Authorities in the six years following the introduction of the 2005 amendment. This experience is said to have indicated that the 2005 criteria were insufficient in preventing meetings that were used for the planning of acts to harm state security. The 2005 criteria were found to be particularly inadequate for preventing the conveying of messages between prisoners or between them and various elements outside the prison.

The 2011 amendment therefore prohibits conducting meetings determined by either the Director of the Prisons Authority or a prison administrator to constitute a ground for “real suspicion” of security endangerment. The blocking of a meeting by a prison's administrator may not exceed 72 hours; or 24 additional hours by the Director for reasons that have to be written; or 10 additional days, with the consent of the district attorney or the deputy state attorney. A district court may authorize a further extension for a period of up to six months as long as the aggregate period in which a prisoner is prevented from meeting with the attorney does not exceed one year, except with the authorization of a Justice of the Supreme Court. (Prisoners Ordinance (New Version) (Amendment No. 40) Law 5771-2011, & bill [both in Hebrew], the Knesset website (both last visited Oct. 4, 2011); Prisoners Ordinance (New Version) Law, 5731-1971 [in Hebrew], 2 LAWS OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL (New Version) 220 (1972).)