After close to six years, Jerusalem District Court Judge Chana Miriam Lomp ruled on Tuesday that alleged sex offender Malka Leifer is mentally fit for extradition and to stand trial in Australia.
Leifer, who is wanted on 74 counts of sexual abuse and rape of minors, has claimed mental illness since extradition proceedings were initiated in 2014. The court has now ruled that those claims were not valid.
Lomp set an extradition hearing for July 16.
Leifer’s lawyers said if the extradition court rules to extradite her, they would appeal both the decision that she is fit for extradition and the decision to extradite her to the High Court of Justice.
In her decision, Lomp said Leifer’s fitness to stand trial and be extradited depended on her ability to understand the legal proceedings against her and to defend herself against the allegations.
The judge said she was convinced Leifer met this standard based on the expertise of a panel of psychiatric experts, who told the court in January she was fit for extradition.
Lomp rejected the claims of Leifer’s lawyers that she had previously overturned the psychiatric opinions of previous psychiatric experts in a September 2019 decision, saying she had simply determined there were sufficient defects in their findings that required a new panel.
The new psychiatric opinion from January was “comprehensive and thorough,” Lomp said, adding that the psychiatrists who had examined Leifer on three occasions had been convinced by her responses to their questions that she was fit for extradition.
“The respondent did not faint, did not daydream and was not apathetic, even though she understood that those speaking to her were psychiatrists examining her on the basis of legal proceedings against her,” Lomp wrote.
“It did not go unnoticed by me that the respondent has in the past and the present mental-health problems, as the expert panel members also confirmed in their testimony in court,” she wrote. “However, these are not psychotic mental-health problems in the legal sense. The impression left to me is that the respondent is intensifying her mental problems, thereby feigning to be someone who is sick with a mental illness. Therefore, my conclusion is that the respondent is able to stand trial, and the extradition proceedings should be resumed in her case.”
Should the High Court reject the appeals against the ruling that Leifer is fit for trial and extradition, the justice minister will need to approve the extradition order, which the defense lawyers can also appeal.
It could be many months before Leifer is extradited to Australia.
Following the decision, Leifer’s defense lawyers insisted she was not fit for extradition. Lomp responded: “There is no stone we left unturned.”
Her lawyers announced their intention to appeal to the High Court, saying they wanted to do so as quickly as possible. They said they needed 30 days to determine who would be handling Leifer’s case going forward.
Dassi Erlich, one of Leifer’s alleged victims, said in response to the decision: “This abusive woman has been exploiting the Israeli courts for six years, intentionally creating obstacles with endless vexatious arguments that have only lengthened our ongoing trauma.”
Shana Aaronson, director of the Magen organization, which was deeply involved in the case, said the group was “relieved and thrilled that today the court ruled that, as we have known all along, Malka Leifer is indeed fit to be extradited back to Australia.”
Zionist Federation of Australia president Jeremy Leibler said the decision was a “welcome and meaningful step, if much delayed,” adding that he would “urge the Israeli judicial system to expedite matters.”
Josh Burns, a member of the Australian Parliament for the constituency in which the Adass Israel School where Leifer is alleged to have committed her crimes while principal is located, said the court ruling “has declared what we knew all along: that Malka Leifer is fit to face extradition.”
“Well done to three outstanding and inspiring women – Dassi, Nicole and Elly – who have fought through this roller-coaster,” he said. “We will all keep fighting until Leifer is in a Victorian courtroom facing justice.”
MK Ayelet Shaked, who was in touch with Australian government officials about the Leifer case during her tenure as justice minister, said the appeals process against the decision must be expedited.
“Great damage has been done to Israel, Australian relations and great harm to the victims,” she said regarding the lengthy proceedings against Leifer.
Australian Attorney-General Christian Porter, who met with Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit last year about the Leifer case, said the decision was “a positive sign,” even though it could be appealed.
“At this time, the thoughts of the Australian government are very much with the alleged victims, and hopefully this positive development will give them some confidence that proceedings in Israel are moving towards their aim of seeing proceedings commence in Australia within the Australian justice system,” he said.
Lomp’s ruling had “paved the way for a focused, speedy and efficient extradition hearings,” the State Attorney’s Office said.