ILF – West Bank
ILF-West Bank is a public defender office providing free, quality representation to poor persons accused of crimes under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian civilian court system. The ILF’s work in the West Bank began in 2009, when the ILF conducted an assessment of the West Bank’s justice system, revealing a critical need for qualified defense lawyers to represent poor persons in the Palestinian civilian court system. ILF-West Bank opened in Ramallah in September 2010, with a single lawyer. A second office opened in Jenin in January 2012, and a third opened in Al-Khalil (Hebron) in May 2013. Currently, ILF-West Bank has 8 lawyers, 4 female and 4 male. To date, ILF-West Bank’s lawyers have represented over 450 indigent accused persons, and over 45% of those clients are juveniles.
In July 2009, the ILF began developing a project in the West Bank at the request of the European Union Police Mission for the Palestinian Territories (EUPOL COPPS), a civilian mission to rebuild the police force and advise on criminal justice matters in the West Bank and Gaza. Subsequently, in September 2010, the ILF’s executive director, supported by one Palestinian lawyer, two Palestinian lawyers in training, and an indispensable interpreter/administrator, opened the first ILF-West Bank office in Ramallah. The mandate of the project, as in other countries in which the ILF works, is to assist in the set up of a quality, cost-effective public defender system. As a first step toward this goal, the ILF studied the criminal laws and practices through the day-to-day representation of indigent persons— men, women and children— accused of crimes under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian civilian court system.
ILF-West Bank’s Work
Today, ILF-West Bank has eight Palestinian lawyers, and has represented more than 450 accused. Training and ongoing mentoring of the Palestinian lawyers is provided by the ILF’s international criminal law experts, known as International Fellows. After a short orientation, the International Fellows volunteer to work on three-month rotations in Ramallah, where they act as senior associates to their national colleagues.
Within the first few weeks of ILF’s arrival, it became clear that the law does not back many of the practices of Palestinian authorities. For example, in the West Bank, only female lawyers are allowed to visit women in detention. Given the lack of women practicing criminal defense, female detainees are rarely visited or represented by counsel early in the criminal process. Additionally, the detention centers require juvenile to have the signature of a parent to be allowed to have access to counsel. This practice, unsupported by statute, often leads to the arbitrary and prolonged detention of children. ILF-West Bank successfully challenged the unfounded parental consent requirement and now, juveniles over 16 are free to sign their own contract for free legal services.
Following the sufficient training of ILF-West Bank’s Palestinian staff lawyers , the ILF will begin its process of nationalization. Since the ILF’s projects provide a constitutionally mandated government service, the ultimate goal of the ILF in the West Bank is to obtain enough financing for the project from the Palestinian Authority and additional necessary funds from donors to ensure its sustainability.