Court In Uproar Over Family Sect Ruling
Sydney Morning Herald/1993-10-30
By COL ALLISON
A hearing which was expected to be a formality ended in uproar yesterday, after a magistrate refused to abandon the care case against 65 children of The Family religious sect.
Parents screamed for "justice", children cried loudly and two barristers stormed from Cobham Children's Court when the magistrate, Mr Ian Forsyth, refused to abandon the case.
Mr Forsyth, speaking in the packed court at Werrington, near Penrith, told lawyers for The Family, formerly the Children of God cult, that he would not be a rubberstamp and would not be gagged.
Mr Forsyth was expected to officially close the care case, ending a 12-month stay of proceedings against the children by the Department of Community Services, granted in a late-night sitting by Justice Levine in the Supreme Court last November.
In that jurisdiction, it was disclosed that a former Chief Justice of NSW, Sir Laurence Street, had mediated for 17 hours, brokering a conditional settlement of the case.
During a four-month hearing before Mr Forsyth, the case centred on allegations by the Department of Community Services of sexual abuse of each child in the sect's three commune houses in Sydney's Hills district.
Seventy-two children were seized in an early morning raid by the department and police on May 15 last year and taken into care for one week. Sixty-five of them were later the subject of the department's care application case, estimated by lawyers to have cost $4.5 million.
In court yesterday, Mr Forsyth opened proceedings by saying he hoped to never experience a case like this again: "I'd never be the same ... it affected my life both physically and emotionally."
He said it would be so easy to dismiss the case, "but I feel my duty as a Children's Court magistrate goes beyond that ... goes beyond being a rubber stamp and simply marking the papers withdrawn.
"I believe, in the interests of the whole proceedings, it's important I outline the reason for my decision, but I cannot give the actual decision until after the (November 2) stay (of proceedings) date actually expires."
He expressed regret that he was "never apprised of what happened with the stay of proceedings" and began outlining the case when he was interrupted by the solicitor for The Family, Mr Chris Murphy, who objected to pending allegations against the children.
He said: "With respect, Your Worship, this case has been tested, canvassed and resolved in an agreed form in a superior jurisdiction. Your role in these proceedings is extremely limited. I'm very worried about you."
Mr Robert Cavanagh, a barrister for some of the children, said to the magistrate: "You've turned this into a political exercise by what you're doing. You're clearly emotional. Stop behaving like this or I'll ask my clients to leave."
Mr Forsyth said there was a principle of law for a magistrate to explain his decision. Mr Cavanagh yelled: "Please state your decision. State your decision."
Mr Cavanagh made an application that Mr Forsyth disqualify himself from the case. "You have tormented parents and children in this court, in my opinion most improperly ... You are carrying on again, showing yourself to be biased and emotional."
With the court in uproar, Mr Cavanagh stormed out, saying: "This is outrageous." He was joined by the other barrister for the children, Mr James Barnett.
When proceedings resumed normally, Mr Cavanagh again asked Mr Forsyth for a decision, saying it was a matter of humanity. Mr Forsyth: "If that's the case these allegations should be laid to rest."
Mr Cavanagh: "How dare you! How dare you! State your decision!"
Mr Forsyth said he was being gagged; he was being prevented from explaining his situation.
Mr Forsyth adjourned the hearing until next Wednesday. Outside the court, Mr Murphy said he would seek a permanent stay of proceedings in the Supreme Court "on Monday or Tuesday".