Israeli judge orders tests in Melbourne case

By Jamie Walker (The Australian)
February 22, 2016

Israel's prosecution service has persuaded a judge to order fresh psychiatric evaluations of a former Melbourne Jewish school principal who is fighting extradition to Australia to answer child sex abuse charges.

Judge Amnon Cohen, of the Jerusalem District Court, will use the expert advice to decide whether the proceedings should continue against Malka Leifer, who faces 74 charges in Australia of indecently dealing with girls at the Adass Israel School.

In ruling she should be seen again by a state psychiatrist, Judge Cohen rejected a defence application that the extradition proceedings be suspended because Mrs Leifer suffers panic attacks ahead of each hearing, preventing her attendance.

State prosecutor Avital Ribner-Oron told Judge Cohen on Sunday local time that Mrs Leifer was dragging out proceedings to avoid being sent to Australia to face prosecution, and the accused pedophile had "no interest" in becoming well.

But Mrs Leifer's lawyer Freid Yuhuda, insisted she was in such mental distress that continuation of the case would cause her permanent harm.

For more than 18 months, the mother-of-eight has been in hospital ahead of each court date, forcing repeated adjournments.

She was absent again for Sunday's hearing, staying this time in her Bnei Brak home in central Israel.

The impasse is set to finally be broken after Judge Cohen ordered that Mrs Leifer be seen again by the district psychiatrist, one of the state doctors who have evaluated her previously and found she was not faking her symptoms.

Judge Cohen will bring the case back on March 20 when he could make a decisive finding on whether it should continue, and if so, how.

For the first time Mr Yuhuda argued there should be no further hearings due to the anguish it causes Mrs Leifer from stress-induced psychosis.

Mr Yuhuda said she did not suffer from psychotic episodes "24/7", but only when an impending court date triggered a panic attack.

"This is not a fraud, this is not an act and the doctors at the end of the line think it is a psychotic attack," he said.

But Ms Ribner-Oron, arguing for extradition, said the "elephant in the room" was that Mrs Leifer had no interest in getting well, as this meant she would have to go to Australia to face her accusers.

The argument about whether the former principal was fit to stand trial there was not one that the Israeli court had to consider; "this discussion is for Australia", the state prosecutor said.

Leifer went to Israel in 2008 within hours of being stood down by the Adass school board over the allegations, and has been under house arrest since being arrested by Israeli authorities in 2014 in response to the extradition request by the Australian government. She had been recruited from Israel to run the girls' school in 2000.

But the case has been unable to proceed because Mrs Leifer's lawyers say her stress-induced psychotic episodes are too severe to allow her to respond to summonses to appear in court or to properly communicate with them if she did, as required by Israeli law.

After being virtually ignored by the Israeli media, the case is gradually gaining traction, with Israeli sex abuse victim support groups rallying behind the former Adass students and their families who are demanding that Mrs Leifer be extradited from Israel, where she is under house arrest.

Outside the court, Manny Waks, a survivor of alleged sex abuse at Jewish orthodox school in Melbourne, said he was disappointed for Mrs Leifer's alleged victims that the case was up in the air.

But he said he was encouraged that the judge had accepted the prosecution for Mrs Leifer to undergo psychiatric re-evaluation. "But with this great news the tension builds as the final decision is in the hands of the psychiatrist's report, Mr Waks told The Australian.

Last September, a Melbourne judge awarded one of Mrs Leifer's alleged victims $1.27 million in civil damages for sexual abuse.