Herd Immunity: One in Four Criminal Cases in Israel Involves Some Immunity Deal

Immunity is an important tool in the police's efforts to protect its sources and assets – but the widespread use of such agreements makes life hard for defense attorneys and the courts. Six years ago, authority for issuing immunity agreements was transferred from the Public Security Minister to a private attorney, selected by public tender. One former senior police officer: "We have to tell the truth: getting an immunity deal is a rubber stamp – and it serves the interests of the police and the prosecution." A special Shomrim report

Immunity is an important tool in the police's efforts to protect its sources and assets – but the widespread use of such agreements makes life hard for defense attorneys and the courts. Six years ago, authority for issuing immunity agreements was transferred from the Public Security Minister to a private attorney, selected by public tender. One former senior police officer: "We have to tell the truth: getting an immunity deal is a rubber stamp – and it serves the interests of the police and the prosecution." A special Shomrim report

Immunity is an important tool in the police's efforts to protect its sources and assets – but the widespread use of such agreements makes life hard for defense attorneys and the courts. Six years ago, authority for issuing immunity agreements was transferred from the Public Security Minister to a private attorney, selected by public tender. One former senior police officer: "We have to tell the truth: getting an immunity deal is a rubber stamp – and it serves the interests of the police and the prosecution." A special Shomrim report

Roni Singer

Photo: Shutterstock

June 6, 2022

Summary

In criminal court cases, public-interest immunity agreements are designed to protect police sources, working methods, and assets. There is no argument over the importance of such agreements, but the process by which they are obtained and the extent of their use – revealed here for the first time – raise a series of questions.

Until six years ago, the minister for public security was empowered to grant immunity. In 2016, the law was changed, and authority was transferred from the minister to a supervisor appointed by public tender issued by the Ministry of Public Security. Since the law was amended, the position has been held by Ehud Halevy, a private attorney formerly employed by the Shin Bet's legal service and as an advisor to the Israel Prison Service. The public tender that Halevy won stated that a second supervisor would be appointed, but he remains the only appointed one to date.

The supervisor is paid according to how many requests for immunity he is involved with, irrespective of whether the request is granted. Some would argue that this system of recompense indirectly incentivizes those involved to file and handle as many requests as possible.

So, how many requests are we talking about? According to figures provided to Shomrim by the Public Security Ministry, 8,263 immunity certificates were issued in 2020 and 8,155 in 2021. Given that around 33,000 criminal files are opened in Israel every year, about one-quarter of them involve an immunity deal.

Most of the signed immunity agreements are defined in professional terms as "simple," including "up to three items per agreement." The rest are medium, complex, or very complex – based on the number of items, that is, sources or assets, for which immunity is being requested.

Although the supervisor is paid per immunity when it comes to simple cases, he is paid 20 shekels per case; for medium cases, the payment is 50 shekels; for complex cases, it's 100 shekels; for very complex cases, which make up around 1 percent of the total, the supervisor is paid 1,600 shekels. According to figures released by the Ministry of Public Security, Halevy was paid 347,127 shekels for his work as an immunity supervisor in 2021. Thus far, in 2022, he has been paid 114,000 shekels.

The vast majority of immunity requests submitted by police are approved. In cases when they are not, detectives are sent to make additional clarifications and can refile their requests. So, how many requests are denied? The Public Security Ministry estimates no more than two or three every year.

"The figures you've presented are extremely worrying and raise many questions," says Gil Shapira, the head of Prisoner Representation at the Public Defender's Office. "Given the change in the law, we would have expected to see a drop in the number of immunity deals granted every year."

Why?

"The amendment determined in advance that certain types of information will not even be considered as reasons for immunity and therefore no request would even be filed."

According to data that appears in the tender issued by the Public Security Ministry, the state-issued, on average, 8,000 immunity certificates every year until 2016. In other words, even though certain details have been defined by law as ineligible for immunity, which was supposed to see the number of requests drop, the actual number has remained the same.

This is a summary of shomrim's story published in Hebrew.
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