Jerusalem Judge Orders Psychiatric Tests for Australian Headmistress Accused of Sexual Abuse

The Jerusalem District Court must decide whether the former Melbourne school principal may be extradited for trial in Australia.

A Jerusalem judge has ordered that a former Melbourne school principal undergo psychiatric evaluation before ruling on her appeal against extradition to Australia.

Malka Leifer, former principal of the ultra-Orthodox Adass Israel School, fled to Israel in 2008, shortly after allegations of sexual abuse surfaced against her. She faces charges on 74 counts of sexual assault, according to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC).

Her attorney told the Jerusalem District Court on Sunday that Leifer, who is under house arrest in Israel, was "mentally unfit" to be extradited to Australia.

It was the seventh court hearing in the extradition case, which has been in progress for almost two years, primarily due to her lawyers’ arguments that her mental state prevents her from attending court proceedings.

Attorney Yehuda Fried told Judge Amnon Cohen that Leifer had "panic attacks" whenever her court date approached.

"The attempts to extradite her to Australia has put her in a panicked state. Since then she has started to get waves of panic causing depression," he said.

Prosecutor Avital Ribner-Oron asked the court to order a psychiatric evaluation, saying that she believed the former principal was "faking" her illness. The judge acceded to the prosecution’s request.

Leifer's attorney rejected the accusation that she was faking the panic attacks, though he did admit in court they only occurred around the time of scheduled court hearings.

Judge Cohen declined a request by Leifer's lawyer to dismiss the case immediately.

A Melbourne court awarded one of Leifer's alleged victims 1.27 million Australian dollars ($900,000) in civil damages for sexual abuse last September.

Australia's Ambassador to Israel Dave Sharma said in a statement that, with the matter still before the court in Israel "it is the Australian Government's position that it would not be appropriate to comment further."

The next court session is scheduled for March 20.