More Female Judges Should Sit on Sex Crime Panels in Israeli Courts, Government Committee Says

Inter-ministerial committee report presented to Supreme Court calls to allow victims to view trials in a separate room so as to distance them from alleged attackers

Illustration: A defendant accused of sexual assault hides his face at his indictment in 2015.
Rami Shllush

Sex crime cases should be tried by a mixed-gender panel to avoid a trial with male judges alone, an inter-ministerial committee report published Monday says. The committee examined how victims of sexual offenses are handled in criminal proceedings against their alleged assailants.    

The recommendation is one of a number of suggestions in the 200-page report by the committee, which was headed by retired Judge Dvora Berliner. The report and its proposals will be passed over to Supreme Court President Esther Hayut and Courts Administration, who will determine whether to implement them.

The report states that the logic underlying the proposal for the more diverse panel is “the difficulty that victims of sex crimes have in presenting their testimony to a panel that is not mixed,” the report states. “The aim is to at least somewhat ease the experience of crime victims who are required to again recount what befell them.”

It also recommends that if the victim prefers not to be in the same courtroom as the alleged assailant, they should be given the option of viewing the trial on closed-circuit television from another room. At this point, the judiciary remains opposed to filming trials.

The committee also proposed officially adopting an approach known as restorative justice, which includes meetings between victims of sexually-related crimes and their assailants. Research around the world has shown these meetings aid both in the recovery process of victims and the rehabilitation of perpetrators. In Israel, it is practiced on a voluntary basis, and the report recommends that the country develop its own model of the approach.

The committee rejected a proposal from aid groups for sexual assault victims and their lawyers that the victims have the right to veto plea deals in criminal cases against their attackers. Nevertheless, the report states that the courts and prosecution have an obligation to ensure the victim's right to be heard before any plea deal is accepted. 

Another suggestion rejected by the panel was that defendants in sex crime cases be barred access to information about their victims. The current rules of criminal procedure require that when suspects are indicted, they must be provided access to relevant information compiled in the investigation, so that they can use it in their defense. That includes transcripts from victims’ conversations with their psychologists and other professionals.

“Reality shows that there are cases in which, as a result of a request to receive information that seriously violates the privacy of the victim, the evidentiary picture in the case changes,” the report states.

The committee was created in 2018 by then-Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and former Supreme Court President Miriam Naor, after MK Meirav Michaeli and former MK Michal Rozin drafted a law to implement it. It met 43 times prior to issuing the report.