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Exclusive by Heidi Davoren and Josh Robertson
6 hrs ago
© Provided by ABC NEWS Bob Montgomery pleaded guilty to historical child sex abuse charges. (Supplied)A celebrity psychologist, who was used by the Family Court as an expert in custody disputes, has admitted to sexually abusing children decades earlier.
Bob Montgomery, who appeared on the TV show Big Brother as a consultant, faces up to 14 years in jail after pleading guilty to abusing 12-year-old boys while he was a scoutmaster in Sydney in the 1960s.
Montgomery is listed for sentencing in the NSW District Court later this month on two counts of buggery, five of indecent assault of a male and one of procuring an indecent act.
He was charged by NSW police in January 2019.
Before that, he acted in at least seven Family Court cases as a family report writer or single expert witness, a role that can include assessing the credibility of child sex abuse allegations in custody disputes.
Professor Patrick Parkinson, one of the country’s foremost family law experts, said it was “obviously very disturbing” that a child sex offender played a role in parenting cases, which could open the way for some custody rulings to be quashed.
A Family Court review found seven judgments involving Montgomery but Professor Parkinson said more cases that were settled out of court may need to be reviewed.
“It’s important that anybody who was involved in a case involving Dr Montgomery as an expert report writer, does contact their lawyer or contact the court to see whether anything can now be done,” he said.
A Family Court spokeswoman said it had received no complaints but parents or their lawyers were “always free to contact the court directly about their cases”.
Montgomery, who ran a private psychology practice on the Gold Coast, appeared widely as a media commentator, including on ABC radio.
‘There may be more cases which need to be reviewed’
Julie*, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, went to the psychologist in 2013 as part of a custody dispute.
She said the psychologist’s “very intimate” behaviour made her feel “very uncomfortable”.
“He was very blasé about the fact that he could ‘tell’ a paedophile, he knew when there was a ‘real paedophile’,” she said.
Julie said parents who may have had their allegations of child sex abuse assessed by Montgomery would be “hugely shocked”.
“It could have changed the whole of the future for particular children that he would have assessed.
“Those parents I really feel for them, just heartbreaking.
“I feel relieved that he’s been convicted. I feel kind of nauseous as well, knowing that he’s gotten away with this for so long and he’s potentially put other children in danger.
“I don’t know how many cases he’s had but it makes me very angry and upset that he’s had the chance to ruin other people’s lives as well.”
The report in Julie’s case was not provided to the Family Court.
Professor Parkinson, who is Dean of the University of Queensland’s law school, said Montgomery’s child sex offences could give parents grounds to seek to overturn custody rulings.
“There is a need for the public to be confident that justice is done in these cases,” he said.
“They’re very emotive, they’re very fraught, one expects the experts to be independent, professional and have no other vested interest.”
Professor Parkinson said it was difficult to know how many cases Montgomery may have influenced.
“It’s also the cases which might have settled on the basis of an adverse report from the expert where the advice was that there was no point continuing with the case any longer,” he said.
“So there may be [more] cases which need to be reviewed … we simply don’t know, and of course the court couldn’t know without going through all the files.
“But the people involved in those cases are in the best position to know whether there are issues they need to raise with their lawyers or with the court.”
‘Family Court does not have control over witnesses’
The Montgomery scandal again throws a spotlight on the powerful role of single expert witnesses in the Family Court, which came under scrutiny in an Australian Law Reform Commission report calling for sweeping changes to the system.
More than a year later, the Morrison Government is still finalising its response to the ALRC report.
The Government separately set up a parliamentary inquiry into Australia’s family law system with One Nation leader Pauline Hanson as deputy chair, a decision criticised by anti-domestic violence campaigners.
The ALRC recommended the Family Court introduce mandatory accreditation for family report writers and lift the veil of secrecy around them after concerns about the quality of their reports and qualifications.
The ALRC found there was no effective way of holding report writers to account if they failed to meet professional guidelines set by the court.
Currently it is unlawful to give an account of specific Family Court proceedings while identifying a report writer.
A spokesman for Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter declined to say if the Government would act on the ALRC recommendations around single expert witnesses.
“The Government is finalising its response to the ALRC enquiry and will respond in due course,” the spokesman said.
“Questions regarding matters before or considered by the Family Court should be directed to the court.”
The Family Court spokeswoman said unlike its in-house experts, known as family consultants, Montgomery was a “private expert and is not and has never been employed by the court”.
“As with all other courts, the Family Court does not have control over witnesses who appear in court, including private experts,” she said.
“Private experts are usually engaged by and paid for directly by parties or Independent Children’s Lawyers — not the court.
“A private expert is very different to family consultants who are trained, monitored and employed by the court.
“It would be incorrect and misleading to imply that the management of the two roles are the same.”