The Children of God/The Family Court Case in Australia, 1992
In 1991, police in New South Wales launched an extensive year-long investigation of The Family, code-named "Project A". This culminated on May 15, 1992, when police and officials from the Department of Community Services (DOCS) staged elaborate pre-dawn raids on Family residences in Sydney, taking 65 children from Sydney into State custody.
Police found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing. The children were all found to be healthy and free of abuse. On the 21st of May, all the children were released into the temporary custody of their parents by Children's Magistrate Ian Forsyth.
On October 31st, the case was stayed for one year due to a mediated settlement before former Supreme Court Justice Sir Laurence Street.
At the expiry of the 12-month period, lawyers for the DOCS and The Family both presented petitions for the proceedings to be dropped. The Children's Court Magistrate, much to the surprise of all, announced his intention to pursue the case. The lawyers for all concerned took the matter to the State Supreme Court. On the 2nd of November, 1993, Justice David Levine of the New South Wales Supreme Court ordered the Children's Court Magistrate to dismiss the case.
The actions of the police and Community services came under fire in New South Wales Parliament, in November 1993, when the former Police Minister tabled documents manifesting that the raids were conducted without proper evidence. On March 31st, 1999, Supreme Court Justice John Dunford found that "in entering the relevant premises, searching for and removing the various plaintiffs, the defendants servants [officers of police and Community Services] and agents were not acting under any authority conferred by the warrants but wrongfully and contrary to the law." 62 of the children who had been removed from their families by New South Wales authorities in May 1992, initiated a civil action against DOCS (Department of Community Services). DOCS requested a mediation just as the main part of the hearing was to commence. The terms of the settlement were confidential, however the Australian media reported "huge compensation payoffs."
On May 15, 1992, similar raids were conducted on the Family residences in Melbourne and 56 children were taken into custody, under the same premises as the children in Sydney. On May 21st, Mr. Justice Gray of the Supreme Court of Victoria at Melbourne ordered that the children who had been apprehended be released into the custody of their parents until the determination of the Protection Applications.
An attempt was made to reach a mediation agreement by lawyers for the children with the Community Services Victoria (now the Department of Health and Community Services, or H&CS). H&CS refused the mediation terms tabled by lawyers for children of members of The Family and began proceedings to obtain custody of the children. Preliminary hearings dragged on for nearly two years, with the Department funding both the prosecution and the defense. The expense of this endeavor to taxpayers was estimated by The Melbourne Age (May 23rd issue, page 1) at between $1.5 and $10 million.
On April 22nd, 1994, after 23 months, a mediation agreement was signed before Mr. Justice Beach, staying the proceedings for 15 months. The mediation terms stipulated that Care Applications by the Department were to be withdrawn and the case permanently closed after a 15 month period of "external socialization activities" for three hours weekly.
Following are excerpts from these proceedings:
SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA, MAY 15, 1992 - APRIL 22ND, 1994
New South Wales, Sidney Australia Mediation Agreement
The Director General (David Marchant) of the Department of Community Services (DOCS) commenced proceedings alleging that 65 children are in need of care as defined in the DD&P Act 1987. The parties hereto have agreed following a mediation of this matter before the Honourable Sir Laurence Street that an application should be made to the Supreme Court of New South Wales for orders that the care applications be stayed upon certain conditions...
NOW THIS AGREEMENT is as follows:-
1 .... each of them will seek an Order that Mr. I. Forsyth, Children's Court Magistrate, adjourn the proceedings now at the Cobham Children's Court as from October 26, 1992
2. The parents and children shall advise DOCS in writing of the activity chosen from the range of activities set out...
3. The parties agree that they will approach the Supreme Court of New South Wales seeking...
i) That the proceedings being heard.., shall be stayed for a period of twelve months
ii) That the stay is conditional upon
a) Children under the age of 9 years shall reside with a parents or parents
b) Children between 9 and 16 shall reside at an address which is to be nominated in writing to DOCS
c) DOCS will be advised of a change of address d) During the whole of the period of the stay all children between the ages of 5 and 16 will attend weekly activities nominated by themselves and their parents...for not less than three hours per week per child.
e) DOCS shall pay to the parents such reasonable financial assistance in advance for... transporting the children to and from the nominated activities... DOCS shall pay the providers of the nominated activities for any fees charged
f) The parents and the children agree that the parents shall forthwith arrange for educational assessments of the children as arranged by the Board of Studies.
The parents do not concede any wrong doing on their part or any need for care orders and consent to the current arrangement solely in the interests of relieving their children of the burden of the continuation of the current Court proceedings. The parents in no way acknowledge any deficiency in the socialization of their children.
DOCS denies any and all implications which may have arisen in the opening statement made in its case or in other evidence in the Children's Court at Cobham that all children the subject of the applications had been subjected to physical sexual assault or had engaged in sexual intercourse.
In Response to this Mediation signed by both parties, J. Levine, presiding over the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Common Law Division, pronounced the following judgement:
"It is patently clear that the objective of the agreement and the orders sought to be made pursuant to it is the welfare of those concerned and their interests, namely the children and the parents... Objectively, it cannot be gainsaid in the light of the agreed facts that the proceedings if continued would be oppressive to a degree that would be unacceptable to anyone concerned in general with the administration of justice and in particular with.., the welfare of the children.
The parties in my view are commended for the step taken to have the matter made the subject of mediation.., commonsense and what I would assert to be sound public policy requires the Court, given that it has the power to do so, to approve what these people have achieved outside the court system and to cloth that agreement with the authority of the court and of the law.
I order the proceedings now being heard at the Children's Court at Cobham being the care applications alleging that the children are in need of care to be stayed for a period of 12 months..."
FINAL SYDNEY SUPREME COURT RULING:
In the Supreme Court of New South Wales, Sydney Registry, Common Law Division, His Honour Justice David Levine presiding.
November 2nd, 1993.
I am of the view.., that a duty to conduct an inquiry even if it can be characterized as mandatory cannot require the continuance of its performances, that is the.., continuation of the inquiry where by so doing the objects just referred to are constituted by the paramountcy of the consideration of the welfare and interest of the children, the more so should an inquiry relating thereto be terminated. The basis for the position in this case in fact being that the continuation will be deleterious, is that the three parties whose interests in fact are at stake.., have stated through their respective legal advisers to the Children's Court & of course to this court, that by a supervised mediated arrangement each has agreed with the other.., that the subject matter of the inquiry has been resolved.
...further to continue the inquiry as his Worship has intimated he might do... not only would contravene the most fundamental principles of procedural and substantive natural justice but would imperil to an unconscionable degree those objects for which the inquiry was initiated.
...in the context where the continuance of the inquiry would defeat the objects of it being started.., the magistrate has the obligation to bring to end these proceedings. I order the third defendant to give leave to the complainant to withdraw those proceedings and thereupon to dismiss them.
MELBOURNE MEDIATION AGREEMENT
IN THE SUPREME COURT OF VICTORIA AT MELBOURNE
No. 7098 of 1992, April 22 1994
Judge: The Honourable Mr. Justice Beach
Originating Process: Appeal pursuant to section 79 of the Children & Young Person's Act of 1989
A. On 15 May, 1992, Officers of the Department of Health & Community Services, formerly the Dept. of Community Services issued Notices of Protection Application and took some 56 children who are members of the religious group known as the Children of God into custody pursuant to s.69 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1989.
B. On 21 May 1992, in this Honourable Court, His Honour Mr. Justice Gray ordered that the Interim Accommodation Orders in this matter made in the Children's Court... be set aside and...that the children that had been apprehended be released into the care of their parents until the determination of the Protection Applications.
C. The Respondents remain concerned that the children are in need of care and protection within the meaning of... the Act. The Appellants do not concede that the children are in need of care and protection under the Act. The parties consent to this Order in order to avoid the harmful effects lengthy court proceedings would have on the children.
BY CONSENT, THE COURT ORDERS THAT:
1. All children of school age will submit to and the parents will co-operate in an education assessment...
2. The parents will implement any recommendations contained in the Report... and accept resources from the Director of Schools Education to implement the recommendations.
3. Each child will continue to live with his or her parents or one of them at the location specified...
4. All children aged 5 to 16 years will attend age-suitable weekly activities involving significant contact with people who are not members of their religious group for a minimum of three hours per week.
5. The Secretary will pay the reasonable fees and transport costs associated with these activities, including the fees and costs of the co-ordinators of activities.
6. A panel of Visitors consisting of at least five persons.., will be appointed by agreement of the parties.
7. The Secretary agrees to remove the children's names from the Children at Risk register maintained by the Secretary.
8. The proceedings in the Children's Court in this matter are stayed until further order of this Honourable Court.
9 .... at the expiration of 15 months the protection applications in this matter will be permanently stated.
* * *
Transcript of "The Religion Report", an ABC (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) national broadcast, September 10, 1993. Interview with Dr. J. Gordon Melton
Interview by Alan Austin.
Well, the extraordinary saga of the seizures of many hundreds of children from the New Religious Movement, the Family, formerly known as the Children of God, which we reported on here last Friday, was also raised this week in the Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago. In a powerful statement, prominent American religious scholar Dr. J. Gordon Melton denounced the recent raids in Argentina and called on all religious leaders to join an expression of outrage at the actions of Argentinean officials. Dr. Melton stated that The Family has been the object of intense scrutiny by professionals, both psychological and medical for the last four years. In spite of the examination of hundreds of youth and children in The Family, not only has no shred of evidence of any abuse emerged but psychologists have been impressed with the high level of psychological health found among the Family's youthful members.
As we reported last week, Reuters news agency distributed the news that authorities in Buenos Aires had taken 300 children into protective custody and had arrested 30 adults on charges of racketeering, kidnapping and violation of children's rights. But what really happened and why?
Dr. J. Gordon Melton is the Director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion and Research specialist with the Department of Religious Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He has studied the practices and beliefs of the Children of God and similar New Religious Movements, since their beginnings back in the 1960's.
"What actually happened was that approximately 100 children were taken in a raid that happened around 2.00 a.m. Wednesday morning, Buenos Aires time. There were also around 30 adults who were taken into custody around the same time. We have learned subsequently that most of the children have been examined and no evidence of any kind of abuse has been found and about half of the adults have already been released. We are awaiting the release of the others."
This follows similar seizures of large numbers of children in Australia, in both Sydney and Melbourne, but also in France and Spain. What was the outcome of the investigations in Spain and in France?
"In Spain, the parents of the children were put on trial. In the trial they were all found completely innocent. I observed the last segment of the trial. The judge very angrily berated the prosecutor for wasting the courts time without a case. The substance of the case had been the report of several ex-members and all of their claims fell apart on the stand. In France the case never went to trial. The children were examined and as in Barcelona, not only were there found no signs of abuse but [the children] had a rather healthy and open outlook on life. The children were returned about two weeks ago. In this particular case, the work of the anti-cult movement became more than evident, and the Family has instituted legal action against them for filing false reports of child abuse and for essentially wasting the tax payers money on what turned out to be a rather lengthy and expensive episode."
So what can you tell us about the anti-cult network and it's involvement in these particular investigations?
"There is, around the world, an anti-cult network that grew out of the American organisation known as the Cult Awareness Network, made up primarily of families of [members and] former members of the Newer Religious groups, or the more controversial ones, that have appeared over the last 25 years. The Cult Awareness Network has carried on a rather vicious attack against the New Religions. Beginning about five years ago, they adopted a new tactic of filing false reports of child abuse. The first such [incident] occurred in [the State of] Vermont, [USA], against a small Christian communal group called the Northeast Family. In the long run, all the children were taken into custody, the State spent several thousands dollars and then a man came forward and said he had filed the report and he had just been angry with the group and he asked everyone to forgive him for doing that. Very systematically, the members of the anti-cult movement have facilitated several ex-members of The Family in the filing of these reports of child abuse."
But Dr. Melton, the anger and the outreach and the seeking of revenge by disgruntled former members is one thing, but how do you explain the involvement of the judicial authorities in Argentina, in France and in Spain and here in Australia. We've got government departments of Health and Community Services allocating quite substantial resources into investigations. How do you explain that?
"We are living in an era where government is finally taking account of child abuse and we pass laws to compensate for our past non-involvement that cause us to act before there is any evidence. We act really on the filing of reports. Here in the United States, for example, it's mandated that even an anonymous report has to be acted upon. So the action is taken before any account of judicial hearing or any kind of search for evidence or accumulation of evidence or examination of the report takes place. In this particular case, what we have discovered is that some people have found this switch in the law and are taking advantage of it and are drawing in the police and the social worker authorities to do their dirty work for them."
Dr. J. Gordon Melton, Director of the Institute for the Study of American Religion at the University of California.
"Raid to take children ruled illegal"
by Margaret Scheikowski ("Daily Telegraph", April 1, 1999)
Police and welfare officers acted illegally when they removed 72 children from their families in a dawn raid on Sydney homes belonging to the religious sect The Family, a judge found yesterday.
Justice John Dunford found that the search warrants were invalidly executed because the police officer named on them was not present at the raids.
"Being in a radio control room in touch with the people who were at the premises is not in my view taking part in the execution," he said in the NSW Supreme Court.
He found that in entering the homes, searching for and removing the children, the officers were not acting under any authority conferred by the warrants, but wrongfully and contrary to the law.
Fifty-seven children are suing the State, claiming they suffered psychological damage following the raids on homes belonging to the Christian fundamentalist sect The Family, formerly known as Children of God.
In May 1992, police and Community Services Department officers raided homes in Glenhaven, Kellyville and Cherrybrook in Sydneys north-west.
They alleged the children had been or were in danger of being , sexually and physically abused - claims the Family said were unsubstantiated.
Having determined the warrant issue, the judge will next have to deal with other liability matters and damages on a date to be fixed.
Outside court, the childrens solicitor, Greg Walsh, called on the NSW Attorney-General Jeff Shaw to settle the case.
"The case has been an extremely arduous one," he said.
"I have been a lawyer for many years and I must say this has been one of the most bitterly contested cases I have ever been involved in."
In their court action, the children claim they were held against their will thereby being illegally and unlawfully arrested and falsely imprisoned.
Mr. Walsh said the children subsequently suffered nightmares, bed-wetting, anxiety and stress.
"To enter those premises to take the children without any lawful authority amounted to trespass to each and every one of the children who was taken," he said.
A 16-year-old-boy - who was nine when the raids occurred - said the children had been told they were going on a three-day holiday and that the officers were friends of their parents.
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