Supreme Court hears appeal on decision that Leifer's mentally fit for extradition

Leifer has claimed mental illness since extradition proceedings were initiated in 2014.

Malka Leifer (photo credit: MAARIV/AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Malka Leifer
(photo credit: MAARIV/AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
The Supreme Court on Wednesday heard an appeal by alleged sex offender Malka Leifer to try to overturn the lower court finding that she is mentally fit for extradition to Australia.
In May, after a close to six-year legal saga, Jerusalem District Court Judge Chana Miriam Lomp ruled that Leifer was mentally fit to stand trial on 74 counts of sexual abuse and rape of minors.
Leifer has claimed mental illness since extradition proceedings were initiated in 2014.
When the district court invalidated those claims, Leifer appealed to the Supreme Court.
Much of the appeal hearing took place behind closed doors at the request of Leifer’s lawyers.
However, Kol V’oz activist Manny Waks was allowed to remain and sent updates indicating that the justices pressed Leifer’s lawyers hard about what new argument they might have which the district court had not rejected.
For example, the justices were not likely to entertain an argument that the district court itself had altered its view of the case at different points as this was the purview of the district court up until its final decision.
There is no set date for the Supreme Court’s decision.
In parallel, Leifer’s extradition trial started already in mid-July and will continue to go forward even as the Supreme Court weighs the issue of her mental competence.
Even if Leifer loses this appeal, she can return to the Supreme Court at two later points.
First, the district court will need to declare her extraditable, a decision which could come in late September, but could potentially take several months or longer.
That decision is appealable to the Supreme Court to review only the extradition law related findings.
Then the justice minister must sign her extradition order.
The justice minister’s decision is also appealable to the Supreme Court in its capacity as the High Court of Justice to consider other policy reasons for halting the extradition.
In the May district court 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.”
Dassi Erlich, one of Leifer’s alleged victims, said in response to the May 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 in May that 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 in May that the decision was a “welcome and meaningful step, if much delayed,” adding that he would “urge the Israeli judicial system to expedite matters.”

Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.