Thursday, 4 October 2012

Family court orders that four sisters in custody case should return to Italy

Sisters custody battle
BACK TO ITALY: The four sisters in the Italian custody case have been ordered to return. Source: The Daily Telegraph
A JUDGE sending four Italian girls home against their wishes "sincerely hopes" their distraught mother will return with them after their father agreed not to lay criminal charges. 

Handing down his long-awaited decision, Family Court judge Colin Forrest said the "sporty" siblings were all "born in Italy" and "did not know life in Australia" before being wrongfully retained here.
"The four girls were all born in Italy, well adjusted, compliant, talented in sport and made it to Italian competitive level," Justice Forrest told a packed hearing yesterday.

In giving his reasons, Justice Forrest sought an assurance from the father, who was back in Italy, not to lay criminal charges now or in the future against his ex-wife "should she determine to return to Italy as I sincerely hope she does".

The father's Italian-speaking lawyers stepped out of the hearing room to call the father and explain the custody deal before Justice Forrest issued the warrant to return the girls.In a sign of the sensitivity of the case, Justice Forrest ordered lawyers for the relevant authorities to correct the spelling of one of the girls' names and to check their birth dates.

James Linklater-Steele, for the relevant authority, which is acting as the Sheriff to return the girls under The Hague Convention, said a federal police officer was waiting in the courtroom.Mr Linklater-Steele also asked for the girls' current location to be written down and not read aloud.The mother's lawyers failed to get another adjournment to seek a further stay."Every effort will be made to immediately return the children," Mr Linklater-Steele told Justice Forrest after he asked if the relevant authority would act "immediately" to send the girls back.

Justice Forrest told the hearing he did not "intend to grant a stay at this point in time" but said the mother "has her rights".The mother broke down as the return orders were made and family members tried to comfort her.
Justice Forrest gave her a few moments to compose herself before she wrote down the address her children were staying at.In a lengthy legal analysis, Justice Forrest rejected all three grounds argued by the mother for her daughters to remain in Australia.

Her arguments that it was "impractical" to send them back, that there were "exceptional circumstances" for them to stay, and it had been "12 months" since the return order was made were all rejected.But Justice Forrest found the girls had been significantly influenced by the mother and those around her, including "extremely inappropriate and bizarre" views of their maternal great grandmother.

He told the hearing that when Queensland police found them in hiding, the great grandmother declared in front of them, "How exciting. Who is going to play you in the movie? They will have to find a good little dark-headed actress to play you".

Justice Forrest told the court he did not want to trivialise the threats of self-harm made by the second eldest daughter but found it was more attention-seeking and she never intended to carry it out.He also found the lapse of 12 months under the legislation which would allow for a possible discharge of the return orders started at the point of the appeal in May, not June last year when return order was first made.

In his closing remarks, Justice Forrest indicated he would have used his discretion to send the girls back even if the mother's argument on the three legal points was successful."The evidence all points to the fact the girls all love their father, even if they do not want to return to Italy," Justice Forrest said.

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