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Knesset bill would limit use of confessions obtained by torture

Lawmakers vote 39-0 to advance legislation that empowers judges to throw out incriminating testimony given under pressure

File: The 20th Knesset votes, May 13, 2015. (Knesset Spokesperson's Office)
File: The 20th Knesset votes, May 13, 2015. (Knesset Spokesperson's Office)

Lawmakers on Monday advanced a bill restricting the admissibility in court of confessions by terror suspects if those confessions are obtained through physical and psychological pressure.

Knesset members voted unanimously to advance a bill that would allow judges to throw out such confessions in a criminal trial.

Two reasons are cited in the explanatory preface to the bill: the desire to uphold the defendant’s right to a fair trial as well as the need “to educate investigators and deter enforcement [agencies] from using improper investigation methods.”

If investigators know that evidence obtained improperly is likely to be ruled inadmissible, the bill’s authors argue, they are less likely to consider such methods.

The use of physical and psychological pressure, including torture, by security and law enforcement agencies has been the subject of intense debate in Israel, as the methods are used exclusively against terror suspects, and often in cases where officials believe an attack may be imminent. A key 1999 Supreme Court ruling set strict limits to the Shin Bet’s powers to torture in counterterrorism operations, but did not eliminate all methods of pressure altogether.

While evidence obtained through such pressure may be useful to preventing attacks, judicial rulings and legislation has made it increasingly difficult to use any information or confessions obtained by such methods to try the suspect.

The latest bill empowers a judge to ignore the confession of a defendant who may have been unduly pressured into confessing. It also sets a higher standard of evidence for conviction in the case of such a confession, such as requiring external evidence to help corroborate the defendant’s testimony, or, in sensitive cases such as a minor defendant, requiring external evidence of the defendant’s direct involvement in the crime.

The bill passed its first reading Monday by a unanimous 39-0 vote. It will be taken up by the Knesset’s Law, Constitution and Justice Committee before returning to the plenum in the coming weeks for the last two votes required to become law.

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