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AG: Illegal Workers Must Be Brought to Court Within 4 Days
Attorney General Menachem Mazuz announced that from June 1, all illegal foreign workers that are arrested by the Interior Ministry's immigration police, must be brought before the Custody Inspection Court within four days of being detained, apart from certain exceptional cases.
In the announcement, which was issued by the State Prosecutor's Office to the High Court of Justice yesterday, Mazuz also ruled that any foreign national who is still being held by the immigration police on May 31 and has not appeared before a Custody Inspection Court, will be released.
Mazuz held a discussion on this issue at his office some two weeks ago, at which he and other senior officials decided that, from the moment they are arrested, illegal foreign workers must appear at one of the three Custody Inspection Courts operating in Israel, within 96 hours. The discussion was attended by the director general of the Justice Ministry, the head of the Interior Ministry's Population Registry, the head of the Israel Police's immigration authority and representatives of the Civil Service Commission, the Finance Ministry, the Prisons Service and the State Prosecutor's Office.
At the meeting, the attorney general ordered the Justice Ministry to take responsibility for the Custody Inspection Court, whose judges are, in fact, paid attorneys, and to limit the number of cases each of the courts can hear on any given day to thirty.
According to the Entry to Israel Law (1952), a foreign national arrested and detained for being in the country illegally, "must be brought before the Custody Inspection Court as soon as possible, and no later than 14 days from the start of his detention." If the illegal worker is released, on the understanding that he will leave the country of his own volition, but fails to do so, the law obliges police to bring him to court within 72 hours.
The attorney general's announcement came as part of the hearings on a petition filed some two years ago by the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and the Hotline for Migrant Workers. The petitioners are demanding the abolition of the Custody Inspection Courts, and instead to bring detained illegal foreigners before the local magistrates court, or, alternatively, to appoint magistrate's court judges to the Custody Inspection Courts, rather than the paid lawyers who currently preside there. The petitioners also demanded that the detainees be brought before a judge within 24 hours of being arrested, as is the case for Israeli citizens, rather than the 14 days stipulated by law.
Last month, Supreme Court Justice Miriam Naor, ruling on a separate case that also related to foreign workers, wrote "the state always has an obligation to bring a detainee into court as soon as possible. This means that it is wrong to take unnecessary advantage of the full 14 days laid down by law."
During the High Court hearings on the petition, Interior Minister Avraham Poraz proposed to Justice Minister Yosef Lapid that the Custody Inspection Courts be transferred to the Justice Ministry's auspices, and Lapid agreed. At the last hearing on the petition, some two months ago, the state's representative, attorney Anar Helman, said that the two ministries involved were discussing the financial aspects of the transfer.
A survey carried out by ACRI and the Hotline for Migrant Workers, which inspected the protocols of some 2,000 cases of foreign workers, found that the average waiting time for detained illegal workers was between four and 10 days. In 2 percent of the cases, the groups found, workers are brought before a judge after 14 days of detention.
Mazuz's announcement is an admission that the current system is seriously flawed. Michal Pinchuk, an attorney with ACRI, said in response to Mazuz's announcement that "it is most unfortunate that the attorney general chose to set a standard that is far longer than the standard for Israeli citizens. He seems to have forgotten that the Basic Law on Human Dignity and Liberty (1992) also applies to non-Israelis."