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1.2.2021

Following human rights organizations’ petition to the HCJ: some 9,000 inmates held in the Israel Prison Service facilities received the first Coronavirus vaccine dose

On January 31, 2021, the High Court of Justice (HCJ) issued its judgment regarding the decision of Minister of Public Security Ohana to prohibit the Israel Prison Service (IPS) from vaccinating prisoners until all prison staff were vaccinated. The decision was challenged in petitions filed by five human rights organizations, including HaMoked, and also the Association for Prisoner Rights and the Israel Bar Association.

On January 18. 2021, the eve of the court hearing, the state submitted its response whereby the vaccination of inmates had begun following the vaccination of all IPS staff. It was also made clear that “the Attorney General’s position is that the instruction issued by the Minister of Public Security to the IPS… was given without authority and so cannot stand”; and also that the Minister had been informed that his instruction was contrary to the relevant legal provisions and could not be defended in court. In an updating notice of January 26, 2021, the state informed the court that the IPS had completed vaccinating its inmates, having given the first vaccine dose to 9,089 people, constituting 74% of the inmates who were fit to get vaccinated and wanted it done. It was clarified this covered the entire inmate population, except prisoners ill with the virus or those who recovered from it; prisoners with illnesses which preclude getting the vaccine; detainees held for a brief period, and inmates who were to be released within 21 days from receiving the first dose. It was also stated that 3,274 inmates refused to get vaccinated.

Accordingly, the court ruled that as every prisoner who had wanted to, had received the vaccine, the petitions had been exhausted and should be deleted.

The Justices emphasized the importance of protecting the rights of inmates. Thus, Justice Sohlberg wrote that “denying a vaccine is not among the ways of punishment… all are equally entitled to the Coronavirus vaccination”. Justice Barak-Erez added that “the case before us concerns the basic human right of each and every prisoner to have their lives protected, literally. Whenever Basic Law: Human Liberty and Dignity is binding, [it also applies to] a person whose liberty has been taken – their dignity remains”. Justice Mazuz wrote that “Given that prisoners are in the custody of the State… the State is especially obligated to supply them with the medical treatment they require”. He went on to write that the Minister’s refusal to follow the Ministry of Interior guidelines and the opinion of the Attorney General, and his denial of their authority, “points to a complete misconception in the Respondent’s perception of his function and authority“. Justice Mazuz clarified in this regard that “the Attorney General is the authorized interpreter of the law for all branches of the executive authority and his legal opinion binds them and reflects for them the existing law, so long as a competent court has not ruled otherwise”.
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