Military courts failing to adequately consider release on bail in the absence of lawyers
[22 May 2017] - Following the decision on 17 April by approximately 1,200 Palestinian prisoners to commence a hunger strike in protest of Iraeli prison conditions, the majority of defence lawyers have been boycotting the military courts in solidarity since 3 May 2017. Accordingly, most defendants in the military courts, including children (12-17 years) now appear in court without a lawyer and have their cases adjourned while they are automatically held in custody on remand.
The current default practice of the military courts of holding children in custody on remand due to a lack of legal representation fails to discharge the court's obligation to independently assess whether the child should be released on bail or fulfill the obligation on the court to act in the child's best interests. Further, unlike in Israel's civilian juvenile justice system, there is no requirement in the military courts for the mandatory provision of a social welfare reports
during bail applications.
It should be noted that in contrast with the Israeli civilian juvenile justice system, Palestinian children prosecuted in Israeli military courts are not provided with legal aid services by the military authorities and are dependent on lawyers provided by the Palestinian Authority, non-governmental organisations or private lawyers. These legal services are, for the most part, funded by the child's family or foreign donors thereby relieving the military authorities of the expense.
As a condition for ending the hunger strike the prisoners have published a list of demands relating to the conditions of their detention including the following:
- An end to administrative detention orders (detention without charge or trial);
- An end to solitary confinement;
- Access to pay phones which can be monitored by the prison authorities;
- More frequent family visits which are now limited to one per month (45 minutes);
- Permission to take photographs during family visits;
- Access to higher education; and
- Improved medical conditions.
According to the most recent data
published by the Israeli Prison Service in accordance with a Freedom of Information application, 5,988 Palestinians were being held as "security prisoners" at the end of August 2016, including 319 children.
Update: According to media reports the hunger strike was suspended on 27 May 2017 after 40 days following agreement in relation to some of the prisoners' demands. It has been reported that the second monthly family visit will be reinstated by the International Committee of the Red Cross following its earlier suspension due to a funding shortfall. According to reports, the Palestinian Authority will now be responsible for funding the second monthly family visit.