Israel's High Court Refuses to Halt Enforcement of Disabled-access Laws

A number of local governments told the court they were incapable of complying with the requirements to make public spaces and residential buildings accessible to people with disabilities.

A disabled man in a wheelchair, praying at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Dreamstime

The High Court of Justice on Thursday rejected a request to suspend enforcement of regulations demanding public sites be accessible to people with disabilities. The court ruled that the state could continue to take legal measures against noncompliant communities.

In June, six local governments and the Union of Local Authorities in Israel petitioned the high court seeking to halt enforcement of the provisions, saying that were incapable of complying with the requirements to make public spaces and residential buildings accessible to people with disabilities.

The petitioners asked the court to order the state to allocate funds to local governments over a number of years to make facilities accessible and asked for an interim order that would halt enforcement of the current requirements by the Justice Ministry’s equal opportunity commission for people with disabilities until the funding is made available.

Between 2011 and 2015, seven municipal officials around the country were questioned over alleged violations. Administrative orders were issued, the violation of which can result in criminal prosecution. The petitioners objected to the orders, calling them unreasonable and arbitrary.

On Thursday, Justice Uzi Vogelman rejected the request for the interim order, thereby allowing the state to continue to enforce the provisions while the case is pending. The law applies to new buildings, and with regard to older buildings for which permits were issued before 2009, allows the requirements to be gradually phased in.

Municipal authorities were given until 2021 to fully implement the regulations, the longest period provided in the law. In the private sector, by comparison, a 2017 deadline was set.

For its part, in its argument to the court, the state contended that most of the enforcement action at this point has related only to a failure by local authorities to submit work plans or lists of buildings that are subject to the law.

The state rejected any argument over a lack of funding, saying the claimed violations didn’t relate to a failure to actually make the buildings accessible to the disabled and therefore didn’t involve major expenditures.

The state also claimed that of 80 million shekels ($21 million) in funding that had been made available to local governments in poor areas of the country in connection with the law, only 2 million shekels had been drawn upon.

For his part, the disability commissioner, Avraham Turm said access is “a basic right without which equality will not be possible.”