The mother of four girls at the heart of a custody dispute arrives at court today. Photo: Harrison Saragossi


A Family Court judge has ordered four sisters involved in an international custody dispute be returned toItaly”as soon as practicable”.

Justice Colin Forrest took six days to consider his judgment, having previously told the concerned parties he was conscious of the court’s obligations under the Hague Convention to make decisions promptly.


Lawyers for the father of four girls at the heart of an international custody dispute leave court. Photo: Harrison Saragossi

It took him just over an hour to read out his entire judgement and the girls’ mother cried as the judgment was read out.

Justice Forrest ordered the children be returned to the care of a Department of Child Safety officer, known to the children, to accompany them toItaly.

The time and place of the girls’ departure was to be determined by the department, but they were to be sent toItaly”as soon as practicable”.

The mother and her family left court without speaking to media, the mother leaving by a side door.

She has not given any undertaking as to whether she would return toItalywith her children, however in his judgement Justice Forrest said he hoped she would do so.

A warrant has been given to the Australian Federal Police for the return of the children.

The children’s mother wrote the children’s location on a piece of paper and handed it to the bailiff, so it was not revealed in open court.

Through her lawyers, the mother asked for ‘‘an indulgence’’ of a few days to explore any further legal avenues open to her, but Justice Forrest found that could delay the children’s return and rejected her appeal.

The mother also asked Justice Forrest to include orders that she be allowed to see her children while in the care of DoCS, however he ruled that was a matter for the children’s father, the department and her to work out.

Barrister for DoCS, James Linklater-Steele, said ‘‘every effort’’ will be made to return the children immediately, however no date was set in court.

Whether their mother returns with them was a matter between her, the children’s father and the state central authority and DoCS, he said.

Justice Forrest sought an undertaking by the children’s father that he will withdraw any criminal complaints against the mother inItalyand will not re-enliven any criminal complaints if she did return.

After a brief adjournment, the court heard that undertaking had been given by father, who promised not to take any more action against the girls’ mother.

There is not yet any indication of whether the decision will be appealed.

Justice Forrest’s decision came after an application from the children’s mother to have the return order discharged last week, a hearing which took all day and included an ultimately rejected bid for a further adjournment to the case.

The return order follows five months of intense legal wrangling in the Family Courts as the mother of the four girls and her family fought for her daughters to be allowed to stay inAustralia.

The mother left Italy with the children and came to Australia in June 2010.

Soon after, the father enacted Hague Convention protections, an international legal treaty which requires signatory countries to make arrangements to return children who have been “wrongfully removed from” their country of primary residence, to have his daughters returned toItaly.

Under the terms of the return order, the children, aged between nine and 15, were due to fly back to Italy in May. They refused to go and their family went public with their story.

In an attempt to avoid the return order, the children went on the run with their maternal great-grandmother.

They were found soon after and placed into foster care until worries for their emotional well-being saw them returned to the temporary custody of their Sunshine Coast mother.

Since then, there has been a High Court challenge (essentially arguing minors were entitled to their own, separate legal representation in custody issues), which was rejected on the first day of the hearing, several adjournments and appeals.

Last week after hearing both the mother’s barrister Jacoba Brasch and Mr Linklater-Steele on behalf of the Department of Communities (Child Services), argue their respective cases regarding the discharge application, Justice Forrest spoke of the protracted nature of the case and expressed his desire to have it resolved, legally, as soon as possible.

Last week, one of the mother’s great-aunts told journalists outside the court, their family would abide by the court’s ruling, even if that meant returning the children to Italy.

Any on-going custody or parental issues will be heard in the Italian courts.

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