Seeking Cancellation of Israel Prison Service Policy that Prohibits Joint Submissions by Prisoners Concerning their Conditions of Confinement to District Courts

Prisoner's Appeal 5898/10 Mahmoud Majadbi v. Israel Prison Service (IPS)

In a ruling delivered on 23 November 2010, the Supreme Court of Israel clarified its position that petitions submitted by prisoners to a district court for the purpose of improving their conditions of confinement in prison – known as prisoners’ petitions – must be regarded as specific petitions that relate to the particular conditions of each individual prisoner, and not as a procedure that allows prisoners to challenge general prison policies. The court stated that in case prisoners wish to challenge principle issues related to policies of the Israel Prison Service (IPS), then they should submit a joint petition to the Supreme Court. With regard to cases that involve challenging a general policy or a specific decision that harms a specific group of prisoners, the court refrained from deciding on whether such prisoners are able to submit a joint prisoners’ petition, leaving the question open.

It is Adalah’s view that the restriction of prisoners’ petitions to specific and individual issues, and not principle or collective issues, is a negative step that could prevent them from challenging general policies of the prison authorities and force them to address what are collective issues as individual issues. Although the Supreme Court indicated that it is possible for the prisoners to submit collective petitions to the Supreme Court, in fact such a move presents an obstacle to prisoners, given the higher court fees involved and the lengthy court deliberations typically involved. By contrast, prisoners’ petitions to the district courts are relatively effective and expeditious. Adalah emphasized that the restrictions placed on prisoners' conditions of confinement of prisoners, and Palestinian prisoners in particular, as imposed on a collective not an individual basis. It is therefore the right of prisoners to approach the courts and to address these issues on a collective basis.

Adalah Attorney Abeer Baker, on behalf of Adalah and the Haifa University Law Clinic for Prisoners Rights and Rehabilitation, submitted the appeal on 8 August 2010 to the Supreme Court on behalf of a prisoner, Mr. Mahmoud Majadbi, from Eshel Prison, following the Beer Sheva District Court’s rejection of his initial petition. Mr. Majadbi had asked the District Court to cancel the IPS policy that prohibits joint submissions by prisoners. The court ruled that the issue posed a theoretical question and that it could not be addressed by the court within a prisoner petition.

The appeal asked that prisoners be allowed to submit collective petitions to the district courts that challenge general policies of the IPS via prisoners’ petitions rather than being compelled to turn to the Supreme Court to resolve these matters. In the appeal, Adalah argued that prisoners have the right to petition a district court to address collective issues regarding their conditions of confinement, and not only specific and individual issues. The IPS had refused to accept petitions submitted jointly by several prisoners regarding the conditions of their confinement, and to forward prisoner petitions to the appropriate court authorities, claiming that the law prohibited petitions filed signed by more than one prisoner, even in cases that affected numerous prisoners. Adalah contended that it is the role of the court to decide on collective petitions, not the IPS, and that the latter must therefore transfer the petitions as they stand to the appropriate court, for it to decide whether or not to accept a petition filed by more than one petitioner.

Case Citation:  (Supreme Court) Prisoner’s Appeal 5898/10, Mahmoud Majadbi v. Israel Prison Service (IPS) (decision delivered 23 November 2010)

The Supreme Court's decision (Hebrew)