Delaying Leifer's Possible Extradition, Court Allows New Professional Opinions in Sexual Abuse Case

Hearings on psychological evaluation expected to take place in February or March, further delaying a possible decision on handing over Malka Leifer to Australia for trial

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Accused sex offender Malka Leifer, right, is brought to a courtroom in Jerusalem, February 27, 2018.
Accused sex offender Malka Leifer, right, is brought to a courtroom in Jerusalem, February 27, 2018. Credit: Mahmoud Illean/AP

An Israeli court decided Tuesday to allow Malka Leifer, a former principal facing sexual abuse charges in Australia, additional professional opinions and evaluations of whether she is fit to stand trial. The decision to accept her legal team's request represents another step in Leifer's drawn-out proceedings in a case that has created tension between Australia, which seeks her extradition, and Israel.

The Jerusalem District Court rejected the prosecution's requests and ruled to allow the defense to present new professional opinions on Leifer's psychological fitness, in addition to presenting new witnesses. The defense will thus be able to use its own experts to counter the medical opinion by a panel of experts that said last month that Leifer was fit to stand trial.

"It's a shame that the prosecution tried to trample Leifer's rights and do battle against her request," her attorney, Yehuda Fried, said. "Both sides must proceed responsibly and completely avoid any attempt to mix in political campaigns intended to pressure the court," he added. 

Last month, the Jerusalem District Court granted the request by Malka Leifer's attorney to question a psychiatric panel's ruling that she had lied about suffering from mental illness.

The Justice Ministry said then in a statement that the psychiatrists' conclusions “removed the obstacles that stood in the way of any significant progress in this case.”

Hearings in the case are expected to take place in February or March, further delaying a possible decision on extraditing Leifer to Australia for trial.

It’s very disappointing to see that the defense's strategy of delaying justice is proceeding as they planned and stated in the past," Manny Waks of Kol V'Oz, an advocacy group for victims of sexual abuse, said in a statement.

Earlier this month, the Australian Parliament passed a motion calling for Israel to immediately extradite Leifer. An Australian lawmaker who planned to move the motion for her extradition, Dave Sharma, said the government and the Parliament “will not rest until justice is done in this case.”

“We have been exceptionally patient in this case, but enough is enough,” Sharma, a former Australian ambassador to Israel, said in a statement.

Leifer, a former teacher and principal at an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school in Melbourne, Australia, faces 74 counts of sexual assault related to accusations brought forward by three sisters who say they were abused.

As the allegations against her surfaced in 2008, Leifer, an Israeli citizen, left the school and returned to Israel.

Australia filed an extradition request and Israeli authorities placed Leifer under house arrest in 2014. But extradition proceedings were frozen in 2016 when a mental health evaluation determined she wasn’t fit to stand trial.

In early 2018, police found evidence that Leifer had faked her mental incompetence, and arrested her once again. The court asked for another psychological review, whose findings were announced last week.

Leifer's attorney, Yehuda Fried, said after Tuesday's hearing that he expects the court to give her lawyers “the possibility to investigate” the psychiatric panel. The lengthy legal battle over Leifer's extradition has strained ties between Israel and Australia and outraged Australia's Jewish community.

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