Israeli Legal Forum Warns Recent Court Directive May Discriminate Against Arab Speakers

Directive states that in the case of Arab plaintiffs or defendants that do not speak Hebrew, both sides in a civil suit must pay for a court translator to come and translate the proceedings.

Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel
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Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel

An Israel Bar Association forum contends that a directive based on several recent court decisions determining that translation expenses for civil proceedings should be paid by both sides “is illegal and unconstitutional.” The courts ruled that in the case of Arab plaintiffs or defendants that do not speak Hebrew, both sides in a civil suit must pay for a court translator to come and translate the proceedings.

The rulings were outlined in a letter from the Israel Bar Association’s forum of district directors to the director of the Directorate of Courts, Michael Spitzer. Handed down since last March, these rulings were authorized by a Directorate of Courts directive, clarifying that in civil cases both sides must share expenses, as opposed to criminal cases, when the state underwrites the translations.

The directive is “illegal and unconstitutional, since it harms the status of Arabic as an official language in Israel and could cause discrimination against the Arabic-speaking population of Israel. The directive’s outcome is unnecessary bother and the improper imposition of high costs on a large segment of the public,” the letter said.

In fact, the bar association discovered that the directive is not a new initiative, but rather the reintroduction of a 2001 directive issued by former Directorate of Courts director, Dan Arbel, the letter noted. A year later, Adalah - The Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel appealed to the High Court of Justice and eventually withdrew the appeal, following the Directorate’s commitment not to enforce the directive.

Last June, Jerusalem District Court Judge Tamar Bar Asher Zaban decided to demand payment from the Directorate of Courts, instead of complying with the directive. She was presiding over a civil suit between two citizens who refused to pay translation costs, not because of financial difficulties – there are special procedures for such cases -- but rather because it was illegal. They claimed that it was not the sides that needed the translation but the courts themselves, and that in any case, Arabic is an official language in Israel. They further claimed that the directive is not based on any law that allows the authorities to demand further payments for legal proceedings.

Bar Asher Zaban wrote in her decision that after investigating the matter she discovered that the courts had paid for translations in civil cases until the directive was issued, and ruled that it was “a directive that stands opposed to the law.” Still, Bar Asher Zaban’s move was the exception, and in many cases the courts have demanded payment from the sides.

The Directorate of Courts responded that “the issue is currently being examined.”

The Jerusalem District Court.Credit: Tess Scheflan

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