AUSTRALIA’s top Family Court judge has released details of a Queensland custody case after the court was criticised for apparently ignoring expert medical witnesses and placing two children with their father despite sex abuse allegations.
Family Court of Australia Chief Justice Diana Bryant said yesterday that both public interest and the interests of the children “demanded” the details be released, to protect both the children and public confidence in the court itself.
National media reports last week aired criticisms from Dr David Wood, state chairman of the Australian College of Paediatrics and the Abused Child Trust, and clinical psychologist Sue Aydon that the Family Court did not put children first, allowed experts to be bullied by lawyers and ignored expert medical advice put before it.
A long-running Brisbane case involving two young children who were ultimately placed with their father after allegations of sexual abuse had been levelled against him during custody proceedings, was used as an example of the practitioners’ concerns.
After an application by the father, Chief Justice Bryant last Friday ordered Justice Neil Buckley’s original judgment in the case, including the names of expert witnesses, be released for publication.
Section 121 of the Family Law Act prohibits any publication that identifies parties, witnesses, including medical experts, or children.
“This is, in my view, a very clear case where the public ought to be able to read for themselves, and the newspaper ought to be able to report the judgment and findings of the trial judge on the matters raised by the article,” Chief Justice Bryant said.
In his 81-page judgment handed down on June 10, Justice Buckley ruled allegations of sexual abuse had not been proved and the children, aged eight and 12 years, would not be at an unacceptable risk in living with or having unsupervised contact with their father. Justice Buckley considered written and oral evidence from detectives, the Department of Child Safety, the father’s adamant denials and the fact the child told only her mother of the alleged abuse despite questioning by several medical practitioners.
Justice Buckley also relied on the evidence of clinical psychologist William Wrigley and counsellor Susan De Campo, and accepted that Ms Aydon and self-styled counsellor Patricia Tyrer had become advocates for the children’s mother. He also found Dr Wood had aligned himself with Ms Aydon and Ms Tyrer.
Justice Buckley said the mother was “filled with absolute loathing” towards her former husband, and was unprepared to accept the children demonstrated a “happy, rewarding and close relationship with their father”.