The Public Defense - General Information
The Public Defense Act of 1995 ordered the establishment of a public defense office that would be responsible for providing adequate representation for all suspects, detainees, defendants and convicts that are entitled to legal assistance during criminal proceedings.
The Public Defense Act produced a new administrative authority with an organizational, administrative and professional structure. Its work is conducted by an internal staff of attorneys who constitute the permanent workforce and a large external staff of lawyers who serve as public defense attorneys and work from their private firms.
The Public Defense Office was established in order to provide quality legal representation for all the people who are entitled to it. In addition to the individual counsel provided to its clients, the Public Defense Office also collaborates with other entities in order to improve the quality of the entire criminal process and to guarantee the rights of all detainees and prisoners.
The Public Defense Office maintains ongoing working relationships with the courts, the Israel Police, the state attorney, probation services, treatment centers, and professionals in legal defense-related fields such as forensic experts, physicians (including psychiatrists), psychologists, social workers and private investigators.
The Public Defense Office is headed by the National Public Defender. The founder and first national public defender (1996-2002) was Prof. Kenneth Mann. He was succeeded by attorney Dori Pinto, followed by attorney Inbal Rubenstein. The current national public defender is attorney Dr. Yoav Sapir.
There are six public defense districts in Israel (North, Haifa, Tel Aviv, Center, Jerusalem, and South), each directed by a public district defense attorney.
In addition, the law instituted a Public Defense Committee that appoints the National Public Defender and supervises the Public Defense. The committee consists of five members: The Minister of Justice (chairperson), a former Supreme Court Justice, two attorneys that represent defendants in criminal cases, and an expert on criminal law.
The National Public Defender
The Public Defense is directed by the National Public Defender who directs all public defense districts. The roles of the National Public Defender include:
Managing the Public Defense Office, formulating policies, training employees and supervising the professional performance of all public defense attorneys.
Public activities to promote and enhance the public defense system.
Providing professional guidelines for internal and external attorneys.
Publishing professional guidelines and periodical reports.
Making decisions on sensitive or problematic cases.
Consultation and guidance for public district defense attorneys on management issues in their districts.
Maintaining working relationships with external entities (courts, the Knesset, figures at the Ministry of Justice, the State Attorney, the police, the bar association, etc.).
Overall responsibility for approval of legal fees and expenses.
Public District Defense Attorneys
Each public defense district is headed by a Public District Defense Attorney who is responsible for the majority of the routine work conducted at the district office. The District Defense Attorney bears overall responsibility for legal representation provided by each and every one of the internal and external lawyers in the district, and for the administrative staff in that office. Responsibilities include:
- Managing the district public defense office.
- Compiling lists of attorneys, appointing public defense attorneys, assigning and coordinating work.
- Professional supervision of the work performed by public defenders in the district and provision of legal consultations.
- Approving legal fees paid to defense attorneys, defense expenses, specialists' fees, etc.
External Public Defense Attorneys
The majority of legal representation in public defense cases is provided by external public defense attorneys that are selected by the district defense attorneys from a list of public defenders (for more information on the list of public defenders, see section 12 of the Public Defense Act).
The external public defense attorneys are appointed to provide ongoing and consistent representation for individuals during detention proceedings, criminal trials and appeals and are an integral part of the public defense system. They maintain close contact with the administrative staff, and report to and consult with the lawyers from the internal legal staff. The external attorneys receive regular updates on work procedures and attend in-service training programs that are offered by the Public Defense Office or with its support.
The Detention Department
Each public defense district includes a detention department that is responsible for representing detainees. The department's responsibilities include:
- Appointing attorneys to represent detainees.
- Organizing shifts and attorneys on-call at the various courts in the district.
- Supervising legal representation for detainees at police stations and courts.
- In-service training for attorneys on detainee representation.
- Ongoing contact with the police regarding enforcement of the detention laws.
- Periodical inspections at prisons and police detention facilities; writing reports on imprisonment conditions.
- Follow-up on incidents of violence against detainees, filing complaints with the internal police investigation division when necessary.
Supervision and Consultations
According to section 11 of the Public Defense Act, the public district defense attorney in each district is responsible for the professional performance of all of the external public defenders in that district. Since its establishment, the Public Defense has attributed upmost value to the quality of representation provided by the defenders on its behalf. In order to achieve this objective, a professional supervision system has been established in each district.
The methods of supervision are designed to suit the type of accusations, their severity, the complexity of the cases, the actions required of the lawyer that represent the defendant, and the identity of the defense attorney appointed for each case. Lawyers on the internal staff serve as supervisors for cases that are assigned to external lawyers on behalf of the Public Defense Office. The supervisor supports the appointed attorney and provides consultation on issues that arise while handling the case. Supervisors also receive progress reports and supervise the quality of the legal representation provided. The supervision and consultation department in each district is responsible for deciding on filing appeals, granting approval to consult with specialists, and more.
The Juvenile Department
Each public defense district includes a department that specializes in representing juvenile defendants and detainees. The activities in the juvenile department constitute approximately 15% of the total activities in the district office. According to public defense regulations, any minor that is detained or indicted is entitled to representation by a public defense attorney, regardless of the financial situation of the minor or the minor's parents, and regardless of the severity of the offense that the minor has been accused of or is suspected of committing.
Representation of juveniles is a unique professional field of expertise that requires familiarity with the special laws that apply to minors as well as an exceptional sensitivity and an ability to instill confidence in minors and their families. The public defenders who are appointed to represent minors posses these unique skills and have received the necessary training and education to fulfill the requirements of their job. In addition to providing adequate representation in court, defense attorneys that represent minors must work with treatment and evaluation experts, juvenile probation services, youth protection homes and more.
The lawyers on the internal staff address urgent requests presented by the defense attorneys that represent minor clients and receive regular progress reports on their cases.
The National Public Defense Office
The National Public Defense Office includes several unique departments that focus on the broader aspects of criminal proceedings and general public defense policy:
The Supreme Court Cases Department – Responsible for representations on behalf of the defense at the Supreme Court. The department specializes in consultation and supervision of external defense attorneys represneting clients in the Supreme Court. The department also handles additional proceedings that take place in the Supreme Court, including petitions to the High Court of Justice, applications for permission to appeal, requests for retrials, etc.
- The Prisoners and Detainees Department – Responsible for the detention departments in the district offices and for representing prisoners in pre-trial proceedings, including prisoners' petitions, parole committee sessions, and more. The department formulates guidelines, appoints and oversees attorneys that represent prisoners, visits incarceration facilities, and publishes official reports.
- The Legislation Department – Responsible for drafting legislative initiatives, formulating the public defense stance on various issues, and writing expert opinions in response to proposed bills. Representatives of the department participate in internal Ministry of Justice deliberations, in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation and in varioius Knesset committees.
- The Retrial Department – This unique department is responsible for investigating requests made by convicted individuals (those whose trial proceedings, including appeals, have been completed) interested in a retrial. The National Public Defense Office has the unique authority to investigate these requests and to submit requests for retrials when finding a cause to do so.