Kiryat Shmona / Legal Hearings Held on the Street

There's a stunning architectural feature to the Kiryat Shmona Magistrate's Court - the 27 steps that lead up to it. They are remarkable not aesthetically, but for the complete inaccessibility faced by the handicapped in scaling them.

On one occasion, the court met out on the street; one of the parties couldn't climb the stairs. The stairs are equipped with an automatic chair that moves up and down slowly, but operating it is extremely complicated, say those who have seen the automatic chair work.

The court sits on the second floor of an old, mostly abandoned office building. A narrow hallway leads into three cramped court rooms, which also function as the judge's chambers. The judge presides from a slightly raised stage, jammed next to the stenographer. Defense and prosecution counsels sit behind two desks pushed together. In Kiryat Shmona, the witness stand is a term that's used literally. The accused, when called on to speak, simply stands up at the head of the desk. Open or closed-door sessions are indistinguishable, as voices and even the rattle of the typing go through the walls into the hallway.

Local residents agree that while it may be time for a proper court in the Galilee, closing the one in Kiryat Shmona and moving cases to Nazareth is not the answer. "The gasoline it takes to drive to Nazareth costs more than the court fee," says one local attorney, Dean Goldstein.

The Kiryat Shmona municipality said the court serves 45,000 people in the area, and that a court in Nazareth is not an alternative, because attending hearings there would require litigants to incur travel costs and the loss of workdays.