(Apr. 14, 2020) On April 2, 2020, the Israel Judicial Authority announced the implementation of a pilot program using videoconferencing in civil hearings on a limited basis. The program precedes the implementation of new civil procedures regulations effective September 5, 2020, that will regulate the use of technological means to replace the physical presence of parties and witnesses in civil hearings. (Civil Procedure Regulations, 5779-2018 (2018 Regs.).)
Videoconferencing had been previously approved on March 24, 2020, for urgent criminal proceedings under the Emergency Regulations (Novel Coronavirus) (Holding Hearings in Criminal Proceedings by Technological Means) 5780-2020. Similarly approved on March 24, 2020, was the use of phone, Zoom, or Teams technologies by administrative courts of appeals and custody review boards under the Entry into Israel Law, 5712-1952, in accordance with the Emergency Regulations (Court Hearings Under the Law of Entry into Israel due to the Spread of the Coronavirus), 5780- 2020.
Currently civil trials must be held in the presence of the parties. (Civil Procedure Regulations, 5744-1984, Reg. 157, Kovetz Hatakanot (KT, Subsidiary Legislation) 5744 No. 4685 p. 2220, as amended.) The presiding court may, however, approve the admission of evidence, including witness testimonies, via videoconferencing. The approval may be granted in response to the request of one of the litigants at least three days before the hearing and in a format determined by the Judicial Authority and published on its website. (Civil Procedure Regulations, 5744-1984, Reg. 173A.)
As of September 5, 2020, the use of videoconferencing or any other technological means in lieu of physical presence in the courtroom may be permitted to simplify, expedite, and improve trial efficiency by the court in a pretrial hearing. In response to a party’s request, or by its own initiative, the court could also order that the testimony of a witness in a trial be transmitted via teleconference. (2018 Regs., Reg. 61(c) & 63(7).)
Parties wishing to present evidence via electronic or digital media must notify the court of their intention to do so no later than three days before the hearing. The format in which the evidence is presented is to be determined by the court’s administrator or the court’s president. (Reg. 71.) Additionally, the testimony of a witness within or outside Israel may be authorized via teleconferencing if the witness consents and the court is satisfied that his/her arrival at the court would cause the witness great difficulty. For the witness to be authorized, the court must determine that his/her testimony is essential to the questions in dispute, and that there is no impediment in the foreign state to hearing the testimony via videoconference within its jurisdiction. (Reg. 72(a).)
Implementation of Pilot Program
According to the Judicial Authority announcement, beginning the week of April 6, 2020, the use of videoconferencing was authorized in civil proceedings held in five courtrooms in the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court, with the consent of the parties. Videoconferencing may be used in hearings involving urgent matters, including temporary civil remedies, and in proceedings for approval of family-dispute agreements if the parties agree and are represented by counsel. Similarly permitted would be pretrial civil proceedings via videoconferencing.
As part of the preparations for the pilot’s implementation, the secretarial staff and the technical support and service representatives at the information center of the judiciary were trained. Parties’ representatives were asked to check if their clients were interested in being physically present or participate in the hearing via videoconferencing.
The pilot is being overseen by Supreme Court President Justice Esther Hayut and Court Administrator Dr. Yigal Marzel, and headed by Haifa District Court President Judge Ron Shapiro in collaboration with relevant departments in the Judicial Authority.