Representation for minors in criminal proceedings – background
One of the international rights of children stated in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and ratified by the State of Israel is the right to legal representation in criminal proceedings. Nevertheless, in the past, the majority of minors were unable to benefit from this right and most criminal proceedings in juvenile courts were conducted without a defense attorney. A random study conducted in 1992 in the Tel Aviv Juvenile Court found that public defenders were appointed by the court in only 124 of 850 cases. According to this study, over 80% of minors did not previously receive legal representation.
In 1993, a bill was drafted for provision of legal representation for minors in criminal proceedings. This initial bill did not evolve into a government bill. The problem was not fully resolved even after the Public Defense Office was founded in 1996. Although judges in juvenile courts were certified to appoint public defenders to represent minors, they did not exercise this authority on a wide scale and the majority of minors were not represented during their arrest, interrogation or trial. In 1997 for example, some 70% of minor defendants in the juvenile court in Tel Aviv were not represented.
Expanding minors' right for representation
In order to address the problem of unrepresented minors, the consultation and legislation department at the Ministry of Justice prepared a memorandum to change the law. After extended consultations, a decision was made to amend the law in accordance with section 18(c) of the Public Defense Act which authorizes the Minister of Justice to expand the criteria for eligibility for public defense.
New regulations were drafted based on this section of the law, including the Eligibility for Representation for Additional Minors regulations, 1998. These regulations state that all detained or indicted minors shall be entitled to representation by a public defender. Minors shall be eligible for representation regardless of their or their families' financial circumstances and the severity of the offense of which they are suspected or accused.
In July 1998, the new regulations were unanimously approved by the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee and were signed by the Minister of Justice on July 26, 1998. Based on these regulations, eligibility for minors was gradually expanded in the various districts – In Tel Aviv as of November 1, 1998; in Jerusalem and southern Israel as of January 1, 1999; in Nazareth as of December 20, 2000; and in Haifa as of November 10, 2002.
Today, the regulations apply to all minors throughout the State of Israel.
Contacting the public defense juvenile departments
Each public defense district office includes a department that specializes in representation of minor defendants and detainees. Activity in these departments constitutes approximately 15% of all public defense activities.
The secretarial offices at the juvenile courts send a copy of the indictment and court summons to the minor and the minor's parents, and include a document entitled Notice for Minor Defendants. This notice explains the minor's eligibility for legal representation by a public defender and the procedure for implementing this right. The notice appears in three languages (Hebrew, Arabic and Russian). Whenever minors are detained, they are informed of their right to legal representation.
The secretarial offices at the juvenile courts display the Notice for Minor Defendants in addition to a Public Defender Request Form. The forms are filled by the minors and sent to the public defense youth department in the court's district.
Telephone calls from minors and/or their parents are transferred to the public defense youth department offices (see details below), which provide the callers with information on the public defender appointment process and encourage them to file a request for a public defender at the juvenile department offices or through probation services.
Appointing a public defender for minors
The district defense attorney, via the director of the juvenile department in that district, appoints the public defender best suited for the case. The minor and their family shall be informed of the name of the appointed public defender. Public defenders appointed to represent minors have received special training and are experts in the field.
In addition to providing adequate representation in court, the public defender representing the minor will collaborate with evaluation and treatment facilities, youth protection centers and juvenile probation services.
Attorneys on the internal staff at the Public Defense Office respond to urgent requests from public defenders regarding their minor clients, and receive regular reports from the lawyers on their cases.
Education and publicity on prevention of juvenile delinquency
The Public Defense Office represents approximately 80% of all criminal cases in juvenile courts in Israel. Since its establishment, it has developed expertise in juvenile delinquency and takes various initiatives in order to promote the legal interests of minors and to rehabilitate minors during the criminal proceedings. The accumulated experience representing youth has shown that in the vast majority of cases, the criminal record could have been avoided had the minor been aware of the criminality of his deeds, of the police interrogation to follow, and of the possibility of arrest, or if the minor had been aware of the significance of the indictment served against him.
The publicity and education program is a joint project promoted by the Jerusalem Education Administration and the Public Defense Juvenile Department in order to raise awareness of these issues among high school students. We believe that raising students' awareness will contribute to prevention of juvenile delinquency in general, and particularly within the education system.