The Age: A Case For Mediation

From XFamily - Children of God

A Case For Mediation

The Age/1994-02-02

The State Government's decision to appoint a mediator, the recently retired Supreme Court judge, Mr Ken Marks, to deal with the legal battle between the Family _ previously known as the Children of God sect _ and the Department of Health and Community Services represents a victory for common sense.

The department was seeking to prosecute the sect over its treatment of 86 Victorian children. It says the children were harshly disciplined, poorly educated, and trained to be racist, dishonest and to fear the world _ claims the sect denies vigorously. The department's aim was for the courts to uphold its protection order on the children. With as many as 160 witnesses to be called, the case was potentially the most expensive child-protection case in Victoria's history.

Both sides have agreed to mediation and this will certainly reduce the cost to the community, given that the Government had made a commitment to fund both the prosecution and the defence. But more important, mediation will spare the children a lot of pain. They have already been subjected to considerable stress and trauma since raids by the department on two sect properties 20 months ago. Following those raids, 86 children were placed in custody. We make no judgment here on whether the department was right to conduct its raids and apply for protection orders. The issues involved are complex. If the department had not acted, it would have been seen by many people to be derelict in its duty. On the other hand, a drawn-out court hearing will simply add to the children's suffering. Now the mediation process has to work and, for it to do so, both sides must be prepared to compromise. For the children's sake, that is what has to happen.