New Guidelines Give Greater Protection to Sex-crime Victims in Israeli Courts

Supreme Court president says complaints shouldn't have to wait long to testify, and their cases will be heard by a mixed-gender panel

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Israelis protest against sexual violence following the alleged gang rape of a 16-year-old in Eilat, Tel Aviv, August 2020.
Israelis protest against sexual violence following the alleged gang rape of a 16-year-old in Eilat, Tel Aviv, August 2020.Credit: Ofer Vaknin

Israel's Supreme Court President Esther Hayut published new guidelines on Wednesday for how the courts should conduct themselves in sex crimes cases.

One decision is that such cases shall be heard before a mixed-gender panel and that the plaintiffs shall be escorted by a court security detail from the moment they enter the courthouse until the moment they leave it. They will also be able to watch the proceedings on a screen in a separate room so as not to have to encounter the defendants. These procedures will go into effect on March 1 and also apply to proceedings that got underway before that date.

The new guideline says, “So that the crime victim may obtain protection in the courthouse, the chief secretary or someone working on his behalf shall be appointed in each courthouse as the contact person for victims of sexual offenses.” The contact person’s role will be to ensure that a separate room or waiting area has been designated for the victims ahead of their testimony, so they won’t have to be in the corridor or in the courtroom in the presence of the defendant, his lawyers or his relatives. The contact person will also ensure that the victims are escorted by courthouse security “until their safe exit,” and that they are given the option of watching the trial on closed-circuit TV in a separate room.

The Supreme Court president also stated, “As much as possible, the victim of a sex crime should not have to wait long to testify,” and that this testimony should take place as early as possible in the proceedings. The new guidelines also say that if possible, this testimony should be heard in one day. “If the victim’s testimony has not concluded that same day, the court shall hear that testimony, insofar as possible, on consecutive days,” Hayut wrote, with the qualifier that “the court, at its prerogative or at the request of the sex crime victim, may postpone the testimony if it believes that testifying on consecutive days is a burden on the victim.”

As a rule, Hayut says, “An effort must be made to conduct sex crimes cases within a reasonable time frame, and for the hearing of the victim’s testimony to occur at the earliest stage possible.” Judges are also asked to make “every effort” to issue their rulings “not long after the end of the trial.”

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut on the bench, Oct. 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The guidelines also say it is the responsibility of the court security guards to prevent any encounter between defendants and victims. “All necessary measures must be taken to prevent any contact or unnecessary connection between the sex crime victim and the suspect or defendant, or anyone acting on his behalf,” Hayut writes. If there is no separate room in which the victim can stay until her testimony, court security must use a divider to create a buffer between her and the defendant, his lawyers and relatives .

The new guidelines were formulated based on recommendations made by an inter-ministerial committee headed by retired Justice Dvora Berliner. The committee met 43 times and issued its 200-page final report last year. It was established in 2018 by Hayut, former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and former Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan. Eight years earlier, MKs Merav Michaeli and Michal Rosin submitted a bill that called for the courts to open a sex crimes branch.

Precedent-setting ruling

Meanwhile, the National Labor Court has issued a precedent-setting ruling that women who complain of sexual harassment in the workplace are entitled to receive all the material gathered during any ensuing investigation, including the testimony of the subject of the complaint and that of other employees as well.

Several legal sources told Haaretz that the ruling made Tuesday is of decisive importance, as it will push employers to investigate such complaints more seriously, and also help women file complaints against their employers.

A 1998 law against sexual harassment required employers to provide only a summary report of their investigation into such complaints, reports which were often only several lines long. Many women who complained said the lack of investigative material hurt their prospects of challenging decisions or suing their employers.

The decision was rendered about a case involving a complaint from 2019. Attorney Dudi Bar-Eli, representing the woman who complained, had asked to see the full investigative material about her complaint of being sexually harassed but the employer objected, and the district labor court in Tel Aviv also refused their request to be granted access to the material.

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