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IDF court: Palestinian minors have the right to see social worker before remand

By Chaim Levinson

[5 June 2014] - The president of the military appellate court, Col. Netanel Beniso, has ruled against the army, stating that Palestinian minors under arrest have the right to be screened before the army decides whether to remand them until the end of the trial procedure.
Two weeks ago, Haaretz reported that the military prosecution objects on principle to allowing Palestinian minors under arrest to meet with a social worker to find a rehabilitative solution. This opposition has led to a situation in which some 100 minors are currently in prison until the end of their trial procedure, while 66 are in prison following conviction. By contrast, the corresponding numbers for Palestinian adults are 1,495 and 3,133. The reason is the prosecution’s insistence on remand in every case involving Palestinian minors, without exploring other options.
In one case, the IDF arrested a 16-year-old girl who got into a fight with her family and approached the separation barrier with a flare and a knife in the hope that soldiers would shoot and kill her. International NGOs found a spot for her in a girls’ boarding school, but the military prosecution objected to her meeting with a social worker to check her suitability for such a setting, claiming “the courts don’t have the authority to order a screening test during the arrest stage.”
Last week Beniso rejected that position in a separate case involving two youths who had been arrested for throwing stones. The military prosecution sought a remand until the end of trial, but Beniso ruled, “Even if the court has no explicit authority, it doesn’t prevent the prosecution from agreeing to getting a voluntary opinion by an independent authority.” He argued that this option is preferable to the prosecution’s current stance, which rules out meeting with a social worker or care provider.
Beniso added that there is no reason to prevent defense attorneys from presenting an opinion on alternatives to prison for their young clients, just as they are authorized to present to the court all evidence that could help it make a decision, such as a medical opinion or school certificate. “The court has the authority to order [the state] to allow a meeting between the accused and a professional.”
The IDF Spokesman’s Office stated, “The matter being discussed in the military appellate court’s decision involves a complex legal question that is being examined in the military prosecution and in the IDF. The prosecution’s position was accepted for legal reasons and represented the existing legal situation on the basis of questions that arise from it.”