A High Court judgment has exposed a bitter custody battle in which a woman’s false allegations of sex abuse took two years to disprove because of incompetence on the part of social services. The injustice suffered by the father was compounded when a costs award in his favour was reduced by the High Court following an omission in a Family Court judge’s ruling. The woman – who accused her ex-husband of sexually abusing their daughter and a son from a previous relationship – concealed from specialists details of child abuse by a previous partner and the fact that her own children had told her that her present partner was abusing them.
She had been ordered to pay 75 percent of her ex-husband’s legal expenses, though she still has custody of their daughter. The court took the view that, after the two years it took to unravel the false abuse allegations against him, the father needed to be gradually reintroduced to his daughter’s life. But the High Court slashed the costs award by more than two-thirds to a mere $5000 after Family Court Judge Patrick Grace inadvertently omitted to specify what he would have awarded had the mother not been legally aided.
Family law specialist Stuart Cummings said the errors described by Justice John Wild’s judgment were “massively important” and the two-year delay was the primary cause of the injustice. “You can take this all the way back to the Magna Carta,” he says. “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
The High Court judgment sends a clear warning to Family Court litigants about abuse allegations, says Gumming, and is an indictment of the system charged with protecting children. Long delays and their disastrous consequences constitute a miscarriage of justice: “The children and the father have been victimised.”
excerpt from an article by by Nick Smith
February 19-25th, 2005
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