The current proposal conveys a harsh message of contempt for the rule of law and is in sharp contrast to the current trend in democratic countries
The proposal to amend the Knesset Members Immunity Law re-surfaced immediately following the 21st Knesset's swearing-in. The proposed bill will allow Members of Knesset automatic immunity from criminal prosecution, unless lifted by the Attorney General’s request and final decision of the Knesset Committee and Plenum. This version of the law was in effect till 2005.
In an opinion published today, the Israel Democracy Institute calls on Knesset Members to oppose MK Miki Zohar's bill because it is a law tailored for the benefit of the prime minister and other Knesset members suspected of criminal activity, and has no justification. Besides being tailored to individual’s benefit, the bill tries to retroactively interfere in criminal proceedings that have already begun.
The authors of the opinion, Prof. Mordechai Kremnitzer, Dr. Amir Fuchs and Dr. Assaf Shapira, note that there is no real need to amend the legislation, and that the Knesset’s attempt to protect its members is based on political motives. The fact is that the law that was in place for the past 14 years was neither criticized nor challenged.
The authors of the report further add: "The bill violates the principle of equality before the law, and its message to the state’s citizens is that the Knesset does not respect its own laws. Any act with potential harm to a fundamental value, such as the value of equality, must be weighed against the inherent dangers of its enactment. We must take great care not to abuse this right, ensure that the violation is justified and relevant, and that its implementation is as limited in scope as possible.
Moreover, the proposal flies in the face of the recent global trend in democratic countries, towards reducing procedural immunity. Thus, for example, in the 1990s, procedural immunity was limited in France and Italy, and it no longer includes protection against investigation and prosecution. In Slovakia, immunity was reduced even more sweepingly in 2012, and now includes mainly protection against pre-trial detention. In general, in many countries, procedural immunity is increasingly limited to matters directly related to the work of the Member of Parliament.
"The Immunity Bill seeks to revert to a situation in which the “cat guards the cream” and the MKs use the Knesset as a haven for criminals," the institute's researchers note. This message is detrimental to public trust in the state and respect for the law, and may encourage criminal behavior."
Procedural Immunity of Members of Parliament – International Comparison:
|Country||Type of Immunity||Comments|
|Britain||British model: Limited procedural immunity||Protects Members of parliament only from arrest or imprisonment due to civil proceedings|
|U.S.||British model – more limited version||Protects members of parliament from arrest only when they are present or on their way to and from parliament|
|Netherlands||No procedural immunity|
|European Countries||French model: relatively broad procedural immunity, which prevents the implementation of police and legal proceedings against members of parliament, even in proceedings unrelated to their parliamentary work, unless the immunity has been waived (usually by the parliament)|
|France||A partial version of the French model: procedural immunity applies only to the arrest and imprisonment of members of parliament, but does not preclude their investigation or prosecution (unless the parliament has approved the MP’s request to delay proceedings)||Immunity from imprisonment is annulled after the conviction of a member of parliament in a final judgment;|
|Does not include protection against investigation and prosecution|
|Italy||A partial version of the French model: procedural immunity applies only to the arrest and imprisonment of members of parliament, but does not preclude their investigation or prosecution (There are restrictions on certain interrogation methods)|
|Slovakia||The immunity is limited mainly to protection against arrest|
|Sweden||The immunity does not apply in cases of suspicion of serious offenses (over two years imprisonment)|
|Cyprus||The immunity does not apply in case of suspicion of serious offenses (more than five years in prison)|
|Germany||Extensive procedural immunity; in practice it is always annulled|