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Friday, May 25, 2012

Italian sisters custody battle

The great-grandmother of four girls involved in a bitter custody battle with their Italian father would rather go to jail than reveal where the family had hidden the girls.  "If the judge throws me in jail, I'll live with it" she said "I have no respect for the justice system and I will not leave these children alone for one second until I'm sure they are safe with their mother."

All the girls were born in Italy and the mother fled the country two years ago with the help of the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Australian Embassy.  The girls, now aged 9, 10, 13 and 14 escaped without their father's permission and it seems fair and reasonable that they should return to Italy to deal with the custody dispute.

But there's a problem - the mother says that the father is abusive but the courts want proof.  But how do you prove it?  Bruises fade, injuries heal and without physical evidence, or pictures of it, it's easy for the father to say it never happened.

Barrister Tony Morris QC appeared for the aunt on Tuesday and told the High Court that current legislation does now allow the children to properly voice their opinion about where they want to live and thus, they are denied their natural justice.  He argued that the girls should be allowed to appoint their own lawyers to argue their case.

But Gim Del Villar who appeared for Queensland's Child Safety Authority said the circumstances in this case were not so exceptional that this should be allowed and will apply to have the matter thrown out.

The girls said they were afraid of their father's violent temper and beatings.  Their mother has pleaded with Premier Campbell Newman to intervene and alleges her husband struck her at least 10 times and repeatedly hit the children.  She went to Italian police four times to report violent incidents but they discouraged her from pressing charges because her children would be ostracized as being from a "bad family."  The eldest sister says she had her finger broken during one beating.

Public opinion seems to be critical of this mother and the most scathing criticism comes from women.  Without any evidence, they believe she's making it all up so she can keep her children.

Speaking for the first time since the custody dispute, the father said  "The Italian courts and any other justice system are aware that I am a model father and no evidence has been presented to any courts in Italy or Australia, that supports the unfounded and incorrect allegations made against me."

The case will be heard today in the Brisbane High Court.

Update:  Brisbane High Court Justice Susan Kiefel today ruled the matter should go before the full bench of the High Court in August.