What is the state of Israel's courts in the time of coronavirus?

Efforts made to move forward with criminal trials for defendants being held in detention.

The High Court of Justice during a hearing (photo credit: ALEX KOLOMOISKY / POOL)
The High Court of Justice during a hearing
(photo credit: ALEX KOLOMOISKY / POOL)
Since mid-March, the judicial system has adopted an emergency posture due to the coronavirus crisis, with most in-court hearings postponed; more pressing hearings still happening, but sometimes by video; and dozens of staff having been quarantined.
The one major exception has been the High Court of Justice, which has been busy hearing major challenges to the government’s exceptional coronavirus-era policies.
In the criminal sphere, there is special stress on holding detention hearings as scheduled either in person or by video conference.
The idea is that these hearings cannot be postponed because a person’s very liberty is at stake, rather than just money.
Accordingly, there are strong efforts to move forward with criminal trials, without much in terms of postponements where the defendant is being held in detention until the end of the trial.
Where a hearing must be held in-person, this is still occurring. Where a hearing can move forward by agreement of all lawyers involved, and by video conference, the courts have made a special dispensation to permit that.  
Video conferences can even be used to render verdicts and sentencing decisions in some cases.
For the last few weeks, most civil hearings were postponed with the idea that in civil cases, only money is at stake, which means there is more time to postpone a resolution.
However, this week, the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court will initiate a pilot program in five courtrooms carrying out certain civil proceedings using video conferencing if all sides agree.
At this stage, the focus would be on civil hearings with some kind of an emergent nature, such as seeking an injunction or other court action to avoid some kind of potentially irreversible monetary harm.
IN THE FAMILY court arena, emergency proceedings having to do with domestic violence or divorce have still been going forward in some fashion or another.
Starting soon, the family courts will also try to move forward with some decisions in cases where the sides started their litigation before the coronavirus crisis hit and where they have now reached an agreement that mostly just requires a court sign-off.
The labor courts have broadly postponed hearings, but big cases impacting fundamental human rights or wide swaths of the population are still going forward.
Small claims court cases are generally postponed indefinitely, considered to be low priority.
Pressed about a situation where a small claims case could make a real difference to someone who was already poor, a spokesperson said that the courts could always prioritize exceptional cases.
After all of these efforts to move forward with emergent issues, the vast majority of court proceedings requiring hearings are being postponed until the coronavirus crisis passes.
However, with fewer hearings to hold, judges are succeeding in addressing their massive backlog of decisions that need to be written and issued from cases whose hearings have already concluded.
From March 15 to 26, 7,500 total court decisions were issued, as were 300 sentencing decisions and 280 criminal verdicts.
There are currently 10 judges or judicial registrars who were ordered into quarantine, one of whom is sick.
Another 15 judges and judicial registrars have self-quarantined for various reasons. In addition, 41 staff members of the court system are in quarantine.


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