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Israel makes child safety hearings urgent

8 October 2020: In a decision of international significance, family courts in Israel are to hear child safety cases within 14 days. Leading the way, Israel makes child safety hearings urgent. In many countries, getting a finding of fact or a judgment in such cases can take months, or sometimes years,. That delay can adversely affect a child for life.

The President of the Israel Supreme Court, Justice Esther Hayut, issued the Practice Direction today. It’s for when a parent’s application has an allegation of risk of harm to a child. And it’s to ensure contact between parents and children. Family Courts must hold a first hearing before a judge, with the parties too, within 14 days of the application.

The Practice Direction will make courts respond to child abuse of all kinds more urgently. That’s physical, sexual or psychological abuse – including undue interference by a parent with their child’s contact with their other parent or family. The time element is of critical importance to effective interventions.

A solution the world could use

This is a development of a local pilot, in the Tel-Aviv Family Court that started in early 2020. A designated judge processes any applications that allege a parent’s abusive influence of a child to reject the other parent. At the first hearing, the judge can make preliminary assessment of the level of risk to the child. The judge hears the parents and their lawyers. If they don’t agree about contact or help, the court can make immediate orders for:

  • the resumption of child-parent contact, with necessary safeguards or supervision, as may be necessary to prevent harm to the child
  • investigation by a social worker of the background to the family disputes
  • therapy for the child, and psycho-educational interventions with the child
  • the appointment of a lawyer or guardian ad litem for the child.

The judge warns the parents of sanctions for failure to comply with the orders. This Direction ensures that Israel makes child safety hearings urgent. It is a temporary provision for one year. It will be assessed by the Director of Courts on behalf of the President of the Supreme Court.