Magistrate Slams Sect Case Lawyers
Sydney Morning Herald/1992-08-19
By COL ALLISON
Moves by lawyers to stop a magistrate conducting a "class action"involving 65 children of The Family religious sect may mean separate hearings for each child over the next five or six years, Cobham Children's Court was told yesterday.
The magistrate, Mr Ian Forsyth, in an uncharacteristically loud outburst, said he was "aghast" at the application made so late in the proceedings, set to determine if the children were in need of State care.
He was "gravely concerned and found it extraordinary that suddenly, after three weeks and two days", he had an application that might mean 65 separate magistrates were required to conduct the cases, when only five were available in NSW .
"It's a logistical nightmare ... and the theoretical cost to the community of people having to go to places like Moree, where local magistrates may be available, is incredible," he said.
Mr Forsyth believed the children could only be harmed more by the matter"going on and on".
He wanted to "hear some evidence" and get the case over and done with as soon as possible in the interests of the children.
Dr Greg Woods, QC, leading counsel for the parents, had applied for a stay in the proceedings until the Department of Community Services - which raided three sect houses with the police, seizing 72 children on May 15 -withdrew its "extravagant" opening allegations that all 65 sect children involved in the case had been sexually abused.
He said it was "a continuing defamation" and "a wide and unsustainable allegation amounting to an abusive process of the court.
"The meaning of the term 'sexual abuse' is so potent it must convey to most adults some serious physical sexual abuse of those children ... I'm told there's not going to be any evidence of this kind ... In the interest of fairness and natural justice, I ask for the allegation to be withdrawn," he said.
When the barrister for the department, Ms Robyn Topman, submitted that her client could substantiate every allegation made in the opening address, Mr Forsyth said his role was to go on; a stay would "not be looking after the children".
Dr Woods then applied to "sever off" these proceedings so matters affecting his particular clients - two adults and their four children - could be dealt with in another court.
"The next witness to be called (an ex-member of the Children of God sect)touches (my clients) so transcendentally, so peripherally ... they will be adversely affected," he said. "The broad-shot approach will affect my clients deplorably, so it should be severed off."
The graphic nature of the opening allegations made it impossible for the parents and children he represented to bear the pressure of sexual abuse allegations for another six months or a year.
Mr Robert Cavanagh, the barrister for another parent group, then applied for each of the 65 matters to be severed off - and for each child to be dealt with separately.
He said the court didn't have jurisdiction under a codified act to conduct"a class action" in which the department was "attempting to paint all the children with the one brush of experience".
Mr Cavanagh said: "The confusion created by the department in its approach means the case is fundamentally obscured and tainted. It's difficult for the public to see that in fact justice is being done to each and every child."
Mr Forsyth reacted angrily, saying: "I'm aghast at the comments you have just made, Mr Cavanagh. I said from day one that I have 65 cases. I've said that from the very beginning."
Mr Forsyth said if he was to deal with each child separately the overall welfare of each child "will not be paramount".
What was suggested "sounds absurd and contrary to the overall interests of justice", Mr Forsyth said. He adjourned the case until today.