The Age: Formal Mood Returns To CSV Case

From XFamily - Children of God

Formal Mood Returns To CSV Case

The Age/1992-05-21

By Kevin Childs

After the almost creche-like atmosphere of a Children's Court hearing, the custody case involving 56 children from the former Children of God sect moved back to the formality of the Supreme Court for two hours last night.

Here, the beeping of a mobile pager worn on the waist of one suited gent led to his eviction by a court official. In contrast, mobile phones had been wailing in the Children's Court, especially for television reporters, while an occasional miniature computer clicked away in the jury box cum press box, and the 29 children were almost all over the place.

The children's applause, and that of their parents, rang out at one point. At another, their disapproving gasps were said by Mr Robert Richter, QC, who represents 37 children, aged above five, to be his instructions.

No such buzz attended the calm of the vaulted court number 16, quaintly entitled the Practice Court, at the Supreme Court Annexe in Lonsdale Street last night.

After three days of the Children's Court custody hearing, the case was back before the same judge as last Friday night, where it all began after the dawn raids that day.

Last night, Mr Ron Merkel, QC, champion of civil liberties in another role, argued the case for the children's freedom. When it was over, sect members felt they had won. "Thank you on behalf of the children," said one to a departing barrister.

Four infants, two asleep in strollers, two being nursed, waited with adults on the scarlet carpet outside the court.

The case boiled down to an argument from two social workers from Community Services Victoria that the children faced emotional and physical harm if they stayed with the sect and Mr Merkel's plea that they should be allowed to go to their homes under strict CSV supervision.

The sect parents, who craned forward anxiously, listening to proceedings, broke into smiles when Mr Justice Gray said that he was inclined to release the children, but would read the evidence overnight before sitting again this morning.

To Mr Ian Freckelton, for CSV, sending the children back would be catastrophic. "It is as though each one has been sexually molested," he said.

This metaphor led Mr Merkel to rise and denounce this as a mischievous allegation (since there has been no evidence of sexual molestation), which would only cause untold harm.

Mr Freckelton said that he had chosen his words carefully: a large number of childen slept in bedrooms with adults.

Mr Merkel had said that the parents were desperately in need of their children. So much so that they were prepared to give unprecedented undertakings.

What had happened, he said, was probably unprecedented in this country. His remark was not disputed.