The Israel Prison Service submitted a document to the court bearing a prisoner’s forged signature; the court ruled that this was done “in good faith” המוקד להגנת הפרט
The Israel Prison Service submitted a document to the court bearing a prisoner’s forged signature; the court ruled that this was done “in good faith”
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On September 10, 2019, HaMoked filed a prisoner’s petition to the Beersheba District Court on behalf of an East Jerusalem resident serving a life sentence and currently held at Ramon prison. In the petition, HaMoked requested that, the Israel Prison Service (IPS) exceptionally provide the prisoner with a firm mattress that would fit his weight and build (he is 195 cm. tall and weighs about 150 kg.), as well as orthopedic shoes, both of which he needed due to his complex health condition.

On November 25, 2019, the District Court ruled that the IPS must see to it that the petitioner receive insoles, shoes and mattresses that fit his size within 45 days from the date of the judgment.

About a month later, on December 29, 2019, HaMoked contacted the IPS to ask whether the judgment had already been implemented. On the following day, HaMoked was surprised to learn that an updating notice, signed by Attorney Liat Rotem of the Southern District Attorney's Office, had been submitted to the court on behalf of the IPS that same day. The notice opened as follows: “In an updating notice forwarded today by the prisoners [liaison] officer in Ramon prison, it is stated that the petitioner has received a mattress to his satisfaction and that he requests to cancel the petition (a waiver signed by the petitioner is attached)” (emphasis added). According to the IPS form, the petitioner requested to withdraw his petition concerning “a firm mattress + orthopedic shoes”; a signature appeared at the bottom, allegedly the prisoner’s, and also the signature of an IPS officer attesting that the prisoner had signed the document in his presence. Based on this notice, the court decided to delete the already-adjudicated petition.

But in reality, the prisoner never signed the IPS form submitted to the court. The signature did not even resemble his signature. And so, HaMoked’s attorney who represents the prisoner went to Ramon prison to meet him and ascertain the facts. The prisoner declared before her that he had not received a mattress and that on December 29, 2019 an attempt had been made to get him to sign a petition-renunciation form, but that he had expressly refused to do so and told the prison authorities to contact his lawyer.

Therefore, on January 6, 2020, HaMoked submitted an urgent request for reconsideration of the court’s decision. HaMoked clarified that the IPS’ conduct in this case “crossed every boundary of reasonableness, ethics and legality” and that “instead of acting to implement the judgment, the IPS chose to deceive the honorable court … by presenting a false document”. In another decision, issued on January 11, 2020, the court ruled that the IPS’ request “to delete the petition was mistaken, and the court’s decision to delete the petition was also basically mistaken, given that judgment in this petition has already been issued”. The court instructed the IPS to implement the judgment with regards to the shoes and the mattress, and added that in its next updating notice, the IPS was also to “address… the claims of the petitioner’s representative regarding the forging of his signature on the request alleged to have been made by him”.

In an additional and equally preposterous updating notice, the IPS announced that the form – bearing the forged signature – was submitted “as a kind of confirmation/substantiation that the petitioner’s requests were being handled according to the judgment”. It was further announced that the petitioner had not signed the form in the presence of the IPS officer and that “the respondent certainly was not involved in any way in forging the petitioner’s signature, insofar that it was forged, because the petitioner verbally expressed before him his wish to retract his claims in the petition”.

Inexplicably, Beersheba District Court Judge Aharon Mishnayot accepted the IPS’ explanations and ruled that “I am satisfied that the respondent acted in a reasonable manner…”. The judge added that “a detailed explanation was provided in the respondent’s response to the claim that the petitioner’s signature was forged”. Thus ended the affair as far as the IPS and the court were concerned, leaving HaMoked astounded by the scandalous conduct in the case.

HaMoked views with severity the events in this case, particularly given that prisoner petitions are the only meaningful tool available to this vulnerable population, prisoners, to fight for their basic rights. Society punishes prisoners by denial of their liberty, but even behind bars they retain their constitutional right of access to justice. This means not only the right to petition the court, but, substantively, the right to have one’s petition duly reviewed in the framework of a public and fair proceeding.

If this is how the authorities behave in a case where the prisoner has legal representation, it is troubling to imagine how they behave in the numerous cases where prisoners file a petition directly, without representation.

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