Ending Illegal Policy of Limiting Attorneys' Meetings with Hunger-Striking Prisoners.

HCJ 7867/04, Fida Kawaer, et. al. v. The Israel Prison Service

Petition submitted to the Supreme Court in 8/04 by Adalah and the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI), in the name of seven attorneys and other human rights organizations, against the Israel Prison Service (IPS). The petitioners requested that the Court prohibit the IPS from preventing attorneys from visiting hunger-striking political prisoners and detainees.

Thousands of Palestinian political prisoners took part in a hunger strike, which began on 15/8/04, in protest against the deplorable conditions of confinement in Israeli prisons and detention centers. Since the start of the strike, the IPS prevented attorneys from visiting hunger-striking prisoners classified by the IPS as "security" prisoners. The IPS imposes conditions on permits for attorneys seeking to visit "security" prisoners, obliging them to inform the IPS of their intention to visit a prison 24 hours in advance. The IPS had been obstructing attorney-prisoner meetings before the announcement of the hunger strike, sometimes for days and even weeks. Earlier in 8/04, Adalah submitted a pre-petition to the State Attorney's Office, demanding her immediate intervention to end the IPS's policy of limiting or denying attorneys' access to political prisoners, and emphasizing the unlawfulness of these restrictions. The IPS failed to respond to the pre-petition.

The petitioners argued that the prevention of meetings between attorneys and hunger-striking prisoners and detainees has no legal basis, contradicts existing laws and constitutes illegal punishment. Further, obstructing such meetings violates prisoners' basic right to legal counsel, their constitutional rights, and the rights to life, bodily integrity and dignity, in addition to the right to access to justice. The petition also argued that preventing prisoner-attorney meetings deprives attorneys of their ability to defend their clients and fulfill their professional duty, and impinges upon their freedom to practice their profession. Moreover, as the IPS also prevents "security" prisoners from receiving visits from their families and Members of Knesset, the hunger-striking prisoners had no link to the outside world, increasing the gravity of the situation. The petitioners stressed that, even if the IPS considered the hunger strike a breach of prison regulations, it does not have the authority to punish the prisoners and detainees by preventing them from meeting their attorneys.

At a hearing in 9/04, the Supreme Court ruled - for the first time - that the right of prisoners and detainees to meet with their lawyers is guaranteed, including those taking part in a hunger strike. The Court also decided that cases of the IPS barring such meetings during the recent hunger strike undertaken by Palestinian political prisoners and detainees were illegal, at the admission of the state’s own representative.

H.C. 7867/04, Fida Kawaer, et. al. v. The Israel Prison Service (decision delivered 1/9/04).