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A Perth psychologist will finally face a trial for alleged professional misconduct more than se ven years after he wrote a report for the Family Court into the care of a young boy, which a judge found was coloured by “animosity” towards the father.
The case, set down last week for a five-day hearing in June, raises questions about the oversight of court-appointed experts, which has long been a concern for many family law litigants.
The Australian has not named the psychologist — who was paid about $25,000 for his report and testimony — because the Family Law Act prevents the naming of witnesses, making it difficult to scrutinise their conduct.
The father said the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency’s handling of the case was a “national disgrace”.
He has not seen his son since 2013, when the Family Court of Western Australia allowed the mother to move with the boy to Europe.
In his report, the psychologist labelled the father’s personality style “psychopathic”, although the father had no history of violence, mental illness or drug or alcohol abuse, and three other psychologists rejected this characterisation.
The judge later found it was “glaringly obvious” the report into the then nine-year-old had been coloured by personal “animosity”.
The father said he believed the psychologist’s “incompetence and malevolence” had “nearly killed” his son, who attempted suicide in Europe in 2014 and spent three months in hospital.
“An organisation like AHPRA that takes more than seven years to bring a health professional to trial for alleged professional misconduct isn’t fit to be called a regulat or,” he said.
“Children’s lives are at stake here. They deserve better than that.”
He said the regulator had “done nothing” to ensure the psychologist was not “wrecking more families” in the meantime.
The psychologist still advertises his services as a court expert on his website.
Before the publication of the psychologist’s report, the parents had been sharing the care of their son on a week-about arrangement and both had a “generally close and loving relationship with their son”, the judge found.
The boy had told the psychologist he loved both his parents.
But after the release of the psychologist’s report, the mother ended the shared-care arrangement and sought order s that the father was allowed only supervised access visits.
By the time the judge delivered her decision 11 months later, she said there was no longer any “meaningful relationship” between the boy and his father.
After the proceedings ended, three other psychologists who had been involved in the case took the highly unusual step of signing a joint statement that said they rejected the allegation the father was “in any way psychopathic”.
They said they “strongly disagreed” with the report and had seen evidence the boy’s relationship with his father before this point had been “good, healthy and strong”.
The delay in the regulator’s handling of the case comes as the Australian Law Reform Commission considers changes to the oversight of court experts in pare nting cases, as part of a sweeping review of the family law system.
An ALRC discussion paper has proposed a national accreditation system with minimum standards for family report writers.