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Family Court Chief Justice ‘misses the point’

October 24, 2016

BRAVEHEARTS’ push for a Royal Commission into the Family Law System is gaining traction following a meeting with Hetty Johnston AM and the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull at Parliament House in Canberra.

Bravehearts has been inundated with hundreds of stories from victims of the family court process and a petition on has amassed around 50,000 signatures.

However the Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia Dianna Bryant has criticised the Bravehearts petition, citing ‘inaccuracies’ based on a mother’s desperate plea on behalf of her daughter Abbey – who tragically took her own life following years of sexual assaults.

Bravehearts Founder Hetty Johnston says the Chief Justice misses the point.

“The statement released by the Chief Justice is technically correct, as it relates to Abbeys matter, it points to the facts of Abbeys matter rather than the process,” says Mrs Johnston.

“It is true that in Abbeys case, the Court process was followed exactly according to Policy and legislation. This is not disputed. It is the culture and policy that drive the process that is the issue at hand and the motivation behind the petition. The petition is not a finger-pointing exercise. We are talking about the ‘system’ not just the Court.  Abbey’s mother’s words on the Bravehearts petition speak to not only her own experience but those of others whose stories are told in Abbey’s Project and others. They speak to a desperate need for a Royal Commission and the broader issues at hand.”

Mrs Johnston says The Chief Justice fails to recognise the underlying concerning and significant issues of why a father, a convicted paedophile, was allowed access to his child, even given the mother’s consent.

“The Chief Justice has failed to recognise the factors that make parents agree to unsafe situations, that lawyers bully, that the court does not hold (although it should) all information, why costs to contest are prohibitive, why courts should not be just ticking off orders because they are presumably done ‘with consent’,” says Mrs Johnston.

“The Chief Justice’s Statement fails to acknowledge that Abbey died because her mother was placed in the tenuous position where she believed the lawyers, Child Protection, Police, the Psychologist and ultimately the Family Court, collectively referred to as the Family Law System, would make decisions in her daughter’s best interests. Her mother is not the expert and relied on those that are to respond accordingly.

“Abbey as a child who had been sexually assaulted, and through virtue of being a child, deserved to be protected by those with the authority to do so. That is the point of the petition.”

Since launching this petition to call for a Royal Commission, Bravehearts has been inundated with calls from hundreds of desperate and protective parents and carers, all with their own horror stories, following decisions made in this shambolic system.

It is not geared to listen to children let alone hear them and respond accordingly.  Instead it responds to the parent with the most influence, money and manipulative powers.  Rather than recognise a very obvious problems for children in the current system of family law and taking leadership to ensure the protection of children, the Family Court of Australia has chosen to use its energy to protect itself.  Our calls for this system to be examined is not an attack on the Court itself, but for a system that cannot cope. The Family Courts are an ‘exit door’ to the system of Family Law.

Bravehearts responds to the points outlined in the Chief Justices letter by way of defence for Abbeys mother Gill.

The matter was not heard in the Family Court of Australia at any time.

Gill did not have the financial resources to take the matter to the Court. Consent Orders are issued by the Family Court even if they are not heard by the Judge they are a process of the Family Court.  In any event Consent Orders ought to be named ‘Concession Orders’ to reflect the ‘I give up’ or ‘I can’t fight/win this’ reality that drives them. In most cases those that enter into them either do not have other realistic choices – perhaps they do not have the resources to fight the matter ‘before the court’ which can be horrendously expensive (tens of thousands of dollars) or for most, they are advised by their lawyers to agree because to raise matters of child abuse in the courts is fraught with danger and will probably result in losing custody.

The only orders made by the Family Court of Western Australia were those requested by Abbey’s mother or made with her agreement. The case did not proceed to a contested hearing. 

The term ‘requested by Abbey’s mother’ seeks to park the responsibility with Gill, which is a disgrace. This is a Family Court process of agreement involving lawyers and court personnel. Orders are agreed and conceded due to the overwhelming legal, policy, practice and procedural obstacles protective parents have to overcome in the Family Law System an effort to protect their children.

All of the orders were made with the knowledge of the child protection authority, following the recommendation of an experienced psychologist who was appointed at the request of Abbey’s parents.

This is technically correct – Court process was followed exactly according to Policy and legislation. This is not disputed. But the reference that ‘all orders where made with the knowledge of child protection authority’ is again an attempt to absolve the Family Court itself of responsibility and parking it with child protection. We do know that this same child protection authority sent a letter to Abbey’s Mum just days after Abbeys death, finally acknowledging that Abbey and her sister were unsafe and required protection. Other information from other authorities was not made available to the Court but neither was it sought.  And the ‘experienced psychologist’ report recognised the danger too and was more of a concession than an endorsement of the existing contact arrangements.

The orders made were in accordance with Abbey’s expressed wishes.

And now we are blaming Abbey herself. Abbey loved her father as most kids do. A professional expert would understand the complex dynamics involved in parental relationships, dependency etc. Most kids who are being harmed by the parent still love the parent – they just hate what they are doing to them. It is a complex area requiring expertise. Sometimes, those in a position of authority need to make decisions in the best interests of the child when the child can’t or won’t and/or when either/or both the parents can’t or won’t. This is part of the problem we have identified in relation to the lack of mandate and expertise in the Family Courts where State Authorities should be taking the lead but more often choose not to.


Read the original  ARTICLE HERE



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