Adalah to Israeli Supreme Court: Cancel all fines issued under emergency COVID-19 regulations during first wave of crisis

Israeli police issued 77,000 tickets with fines amounting to tens of millions of shekels to individuals – without legal authority. Unclear regulations led to selective enforcement of rules, which violates principles of the rule of law.

Adalah - The Legal Center for the Rights of the Arab Minority in Israel filed a petition in the Israeli Supreme Court on 29 July 2020 demanding that Israel’s attorney general (also now acting state attorney) cancel all legal proceedings, relating to both criminal and administrative offenses, regarding the imposition of fines issued by the police for alleged violations of emergency COVID-19 regulations. The petition also requests that the state return fines that have already been collected from individuals for these offenses.


According to data from the Enforcement Authority updated as of 5 July 2020, between March and June 2020, the period in which the Emergency Regulations in question were implemented, more than 77,000 tickets with fines were given; only 18.8 percent of the fines have been paid so far.


CLICK HERE to read a report by the Knesset Research Center: Data on Enforcement and Collection of Police Fines for Corona Offenses [Hebrew]


The petition, filed by Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher, argues that the criminal offenses for which the fines were collected were determined by the Emergency Regulations in violation of the law. The first section of the Israeli Penal Code stipulates that criminal offenses and punishment shall be determined solely by law.


Further, the prohibitions imposed by the Emergency Regulations were not clear, and even contained internal contradictions in a way that is contrary to the principles of the rule of law. The petition provides many examples illustrating the lack of clear guidelines has also led to the selective enforcement of alleged offenses.


A main argument against the validity of these Emergency Regulations is that the determination of criminal offenses by these regulations is contrary to the Basic Law: The Government, since there was no impediment to enforcing corona restrictions via primary legislation in the Knesset. This argument is strengthened by the attorney general's letter of 6 April 2020 to the prime minister in which he explicitly warned that: "In accordance with the provisions of section 39 of the Basic Law: The Government, as well as case law, no new legislative arrangements can be made by enacting emergency regulations, where this can be done through primary legislation in the Knesset."


Moreover, the petition demands the cancellation of the criminal offenses because by law, regulations that produce new criminal offenses must be overseen by the Knesset. This rule is to ensure that the definition of the offense conforms to the principle of legality, is not arbitrary or vague, and clearly describes prohibited conduct.


Adalah Attorney Sawsan Zaher commented:


"The lack of Knesset oversight has led to a state of arbitrary enforcement and uncertainty as to when a breach of the corona restrictions is or is not an offense. This is especially so when many of the fines were given for natural, everyday behavior that is difficult to define as criminal. Not only is the language of the regulations unclear but also there were no clear guidelines on how to enforce their violation. The result is that law enforcement agencies are given sweeping discretion to act at will, and thousands of people are facing criminal and administrative proceedings, when in fact the regulations do not meet the most basic conditions of a clear law. Therefore, indicting thousands of people in this way violates our civil rights."


CLICK HERE to read the petition [Hebrew]


Case citation: HCJ 5314/20 Adalah v. Israeli Attorney General et al [Hebrew]



(Photo: Israel Police/Facebook)