Israel publishes court procedures to make testimony easier on sex crime victims

New rules, after 2 years of research on difficulties experienced by accusers, include preventing contact between victim and suspect, speedy process, mixed-gender judge panels

Illustrative: The Jerusalem District Court on September 20, 2012. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: The Jerusalem District Court on September 20, 2012. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Israeli court system published new procedures Wednesday aimed at making it easier for victims of sex crimes to give testimony, a process described by many as mentally and emotionally difficult, sometimes even traumatic.

The success of the MeToo campaign in raising awareness of sexual harassment and sexual assault has also highlighted the challenges faced by victims in court, where they must recount the events in detail, face their attackers and undergo an often-brutal cross-examination.

The procedures are the result of nearly two years of deliberations by a committee headed by Dvora Berliner, the former head of the Tel Aviv District Court. The committee was tasked with mapping out the challenges and difficulties experienced by victims during court cases and trying to minimize them as much as possible.

The new rules, published by Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut, state that whenever possible, a hearing featuring testimony by the alleged victim of a sexual offense will be the first to be heard by the court on that day, and the hearing will begin with the testimony. The aim is to prevent the need for the victim to wait, sometimes for hours.

Courts will make an effort to hear the entire testimony in a single day or on several consecutive days, unless the judges conclude that that is making it harder for the victim.

Australian sisters Elly Sapper, Dassi Erlich and Nicole Meyer who were allegedly sexually abused by former headteacher Malka Leifer arrive for a court hearing at the District Court in Jerusalem, March 6, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Panels of justices overseeing sex crime cases will be made up of both male and female judges.

A “respectful and secure” room or place will be designated for the victim and those accompanying them, where the suspect or defendant and their associates or anyone sent by them will not be allowed in. In courthouses where that is impossible, a place will be designated with court guards continuously present to prevent contact with the alleged or suspected attacker and their associates.

Each court will appoint an official tasked with designating a waiting room for victims, coordinating their security arrangements throughout their stay in the court, offering them an option to watch the hearing via CCTV footage whenever their presence in the courtroom isn’t needed, and coordinating a preparatory tour of the court for the victim ahead of the hearing, if requested.

The rules also call on courts to conduct the proceedings and provide a ruling in a “reasonable” time, without unnecessary delays, acknowledging the “therapeutic benefits to the end of the trial, which helps with the victim’s rehabilitation and psychological acclimation after the trial.”

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