What steps lie ahead in the extradition process against Malka Leifer

Is there an end in sight to a process that has dragged on for more than a decade?

Malka Leifer
The findings of the psychiatric panel that alleged pedophile Malka Leifer is mentally fit for trial were greeted on Thursday with great enthusiasm by those who claim she abused them and activists who have been working on the case.
But given that the case is now in its sixth year, is there an end in sight to a process that has dragged on for more than a decade?
Leifer is wanted in Australia on 74 charges of sexual molestation and rape of school girls at the Adas Israel school in Melbourne, where she worked from 2000 to 2008. But her extradition to Australia has been severely delayed due to her claim she is mentally unfit for trial.
Now that the psychiatric panel has submitted its opinion, the next step in the proceedings will be a scheduled hearing in the Jerusalem District Court next Tuesday, where the findings of the psychiatric panel will be reviewed in court for the first time.
Judge Chana Miriam Lomp, who is presiding over the case, is likely to schedule further hearings if Leifer’s lawyers request to cross-examine the panel experts as they have in the past and which they almost certainly will do again.
It is unclear how many hearings will be held, but even two hearings could take two or three months to complete.
Leifer’s very expensive defense lawyers have managed to successfully cast doubt on a previous psychiatric assessment that she was feigning mental illness. Their response on Thursday to the new panel’s findings indicated they would try and do so again.
Once the hearings on the new psychiatric opinion have been completed, Lomp will then make a final decision on whether Leifer is mentally fit for extradition.
An extradition trial would then be initiated, also in the Jerusalem District Court, that would not deal with any aspect of Leifer’s mental fitness. It would examine the merits of Australia’s extradition request, originally made in 2012.
The extradition trial could take several months.
In a civil suit in the Supreme Court of the Australian state of Victoria, Dassi Erlich – one of Leifer’s alleged victims – was awarded more than A$1.1 million in damages to be paid by the Adas Israel school where Leifer served as principal, as well as A$150,000 payable by Leifer herself.
The evidence against Leifer “discloses the sole motivation of Leifer in her dealings with the plaintiff was for her own sexual gratification,” the judge in that case said, adding that her actions showed “the destructive and evil nature of her sexual abuse of the plaintiff over a period of years.”
Should the Jerusalem District Court approve the extradition request, Leifer’s defense attorneys could then appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.
If the Supreme Court rejects the appeal, then the justice minister can approve the extradition order. But that decision, too, can be appealed to the High Court of Justice, which is the final chance for Leifer’s layers to prevent her extradition.
Putting a time scale on these sequence of events, assuming that Leifer’s defense team appeals at every step of the way, is difficult. Although six months for this process would be considered extremely rapid, it is likely the process could take a year or more.
The Australian government has exercised significant diplomatic pressure on Israel to bring the case to a denouement.
Last October, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for the legal proceedings against Leifer to be expedited, and the Australian attorney-general raised the issue with Israel’s attorney-general and justice minister only last month.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told an Australian delegation in October that the justice minister would very quickly approve a court decision approving extradition should it be issued.
So although there are several more phases of the extradition process to be navigated, it is possible, and even likely, that where bureaucratic or logistical processes can be hastened, they will be. That is due to the diplomatic pressure and the increasing embarrassment the case has become for Israel’s justice system.
The psychiatric panel’s findings that Leifer is fit for trial is a huge boost for the prosecution, her alleged victims and the campaign to extradite her back to Australia to stand trial.
But there is still a way to go before she might be seen on the docket in an Australian court.