Book review and Australian Family Court commentary by Helen Tastard 24 February 2018.
Please note that this is a draft only and it is only Part I of a longer document, the rest of which will appear later.
Helen Tastard has temporarily (24 Feb-31 March 2018) waived full copyright in order to publicize the content of this review and commentary in the public interest.
The Association Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) Australian Chapter is already silently taking over the Australian Family Court, with disastrous results. It is able to do this because of its privileged position. It was initially headed (in about 2015) by the now recently retired Australian Family Court Chief Justice, the Hon Diana Bryant, which seems to imply official links with the Australian Family Court. Its activities have so far been unquestioned by any official authority.
Towards the end of this document (p 10-12) is a draft list of people known to have links with AFCC Australian Chapter. Some listed are conference speakers and could have been recruited simply to enhance the standing of AFCC Australian Chapter. Even AFCC Australian Chapter members may not realize the true role of the Chapter. I apologize to anyone who is embarrassed by the disclosure of their name here. All names have been previously been published online in the context of AFCC activities.
This revelation would not have been necessary if AFCC were to allow public access to its membership list. I have collected about 50 names. Australian Chapter membership (including organizational or corporate members) is about 200. This figure was claimed in early 2017 at an Australian Senate Committee Hearing concerning complaints about family consultants/psychologists to AHPRA (Australian Health Practitioners Regulation Authority).
Keith Snow’s book (of which details are given below or overleaf) helps to explain the origins and activities of the United States based Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.
The name AFCC Australian Chapter indicates that it is part of the powerful and corrupt parent body which is described in Keith Snow’s book.
The book’s details are :The Worst Interests of the Child : The Trafficking of Children and Parents through US Family Courts, by Keith Harmon Snow. Atlanta [Georgia, US] : Burning Sage, 2016. Available in Australia from bookshops such as Readings. Price $45.00 (approx). A copy is also held by The National Library of Australia. Local public libraries may purchase it on your request.
The author, Keith Harmon Snow, is an international, award-winning investigative journalist. He lectures at the Santa Barbara campus of the University of California in the United States (US). His special interests are breaches of human rights and genocide.
Keith Snow regards the Family Court in US as engaging in mafia-like organized crime. He does not refer directly to Australia, but the situation here has much in common with that of US. Hence this review and commentary.
Some of the harmful practices of US State Family Courts have not yet reached Australia but are soon likely to do so. This is because of the recent admission of Australia as the only country in the world with full membership of the influential US-based Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC). The Australian Chapter (or branch or franchise since it is really a business) of AFCC was fully established only in 2015. It was brought to Australia and initially led by the recently retired Australian Family Court Chief Justice, the Hon Diana Bryant. Its present leader is a judge of the Australian Family Court Appeals Division.
The Australian Family Court’s involvement with AFCC dates back to the late 1990s when the previous Australian Family Court Chief Justice (Hon A Nicholson) was president of the parent body in US.
The Constitution of The AFCC Australian Chapter was drawn up in 2016. It is actively recruiting new members and is apparently open to a wide range of occupations. Only its Board members can have full access to its records.
It seems to offer open membership but an application can be refused without given reason. The AFCC Australian Chapter is a registered charity with some tax concessions. Its charitable works or activities are not yet apparent.
It holds annual conferences in which rather basic and/or outdated educational information is presented through talks and seminars etc. A well-known Australian comedian was engaged at one of these as an entertainer and presenter. There is no evidence that knowledge is imparted or behaviour changed for the better as a result of conference attendance.
AFCC Australian Chapter openly promotes itself a business and social network. It boasts about the collaborative nature of its activities without any mention that this collaboration is most evident in Family Court decisions which promote child abuse. The Australian government ignores the obvious conflict of interest which is routinely seen in all three branches of the Australian Family Court. Politicians quote or invoke the non-existent principle of the separation of political and judicial powers when asked to help. This is despite all judges being politically appointed, often on grounds other than merit. Once appointed, judges can only be sacked by Act of Parliament, and normally have a secure job until the age of 70. They can then take up lucrative positions with, for example, the forthcoming Australian Family Law Review.
The chief grounds for a judge’s dismissal is bias. However, an appeal judge can order an honest lawyer to remove all allegations of bias before an appeal can even be considered. This weakens a case so that the same judge can later refuse the right to appeal.
The AFCC Australian Chapter Constitution (printed on the letterhead of a large Queensland legal firm), describes it as a public company limited by guarantee. Its main “object” (their word which probably means “aim” or “objective” in normal language) is …
To be the Australian body of interdisciplinary professionals working together to improve the lives of children and families through the resolution of conflict in accordance with the mission of Association of Family and Conciliation Courts. To achieve the above the company may without limitation harness the resources of the community.
I suspect this “harnessing” means making as much money as possible from government agencies and from clients. The annual cost to the community of running the Australian Family Court could be about $AUD 11 billion. A minimum of 6000 children each year are subject to abuse knowingly inflicted by the Australian Family Court through its AFCC inspired practitioners. Precise figures are not available through the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The reviewer welcomes comments on, and legitimate corrections to, these figures.
AFCC aims are expressed elsewhere in slightly different terms but it usually portrays itself as a very worthy body made up of conscientious professionals who want only to do good.
The reality in both countries and in other former British colonies including Canada, New Zealand, Eire/ Ireland and South Africa, as well as Britain itself, is the complete opposite.
According to Keith Snow, AFCC involvement in the corruption of the Family Court system in US began about twenty years ago. It resulted from well-meaning laws enacted by the Clinton administration designed to help needy families. . Based on economic and financial incentives and with no accountability or regulation, it enables individuals in US state family courts and other agencies to benefit personally from the funding. It does this by appointing unofficial “gatekeepers” in various institutions.
A major factor in the rise of AFCC was the adoption and promotion of the false psychological theory of Parent Alienation Syndrome (PAS) by a group of US Family Court personnel (including judges, lawyers and psychologists/ family consultants/ family report writers).
That began in the 1990s.
Parent Alienation Syndrome (PAS) was the mid-1980s theory of US psychologist, Dr Richard Gardner, who approved of paedophilia and other sexual perversions. He also disliked women. The pro-Gardner and pro-PAS group in US either formed the AFCC or used the existing AFCC to form a franchise (that is, a business) in order to train others. They also founded a father’s group which is today known as the Children’s Rights Council. Its aim is to teach abusive litigants to use PAS to gain custody.
According to an obituary in the New York Times , Richard Gardner was a psychologist and not a professor of Child Psychiatry as is sometimes claimed. For a time, he worked as a volunteer at Columbia University in US. Dr Gardner took his own life while suffering from a painful neurological disorder which might have affected his mind and behaviour.
Richard Gardner maintained that children who suffered from what he called Parent Alienation Syndrome (PAS) had been indoctrinated by the other parent without cause.
He recommended that such children be removed from the so-called alienating parent and placed in the custody of the accused abusive parent. PAS was never recognized by the American Medical Association or ay other professional body.
A US journalist, Peter Jamison, in 2011 summarized the use of PAS by US family courts as follows:
Mother suspects father of sexual abuse against child; mother asks family court to investigate; court assigns psychologist to evaluate parents; psychologist declares that mother invented charges against father; mother is labelled with psychopathology based on discredited psychological theories; family court judge delivers child to abusive father.
At the previously mentioned Senate Enquiry of 2017 it was claimed that AFCC is an important international organization. Yet its own publicity mentions only four countries. These are US (some states), Canada (some states), Australia, which is the only country in the world with full Chapter status, and New Zealand which has some members but not enough to form a Chapter which requires a minimum of 75. No doubt there are individual and organizational (or corporate) members in other countries. Some of these could be judges and lawyers’ groups able to exert influence without being publicly named. This would account for the great influence of AFCC despite its alleged total membership of only 4000.
The AFCC Australian Chapter representatives seem to have persuaded the above Senate Committee to recommend law changes which would make complaints about family report writers impossible without a Judge’s request. This could mean exemption from complaints as well as the legal immunity they already enjoy.
In addition to the spoken submissions of AFCC representatives to the Senate Committee, a lengthy written submission was made by the relevant AFCC Australian Chapter Committee or Subcommittee of four.
The names are blacked out (redacted) on the printed version which is available to the public. Ms Belinda Spong (family lawyer) identified herself as one member but the names of the other three are not known. If they were the same three others who attended or gave spoken evidence at the Senate Hearing, such redaction was unnecessary. If instead they included any of the Australian Family Court judges known to be AFCC Australian Chapter members, why were their names redacted from the written submission? Why would anyone wish to hide their identity from even the Family Court clients whom they claim to have helped to a peaceful settlement using the much-vaunted conciliation or mediation skills (or via consent orders)? These very clients provide the livelihood of judges and all who work within the Australian Family Court. The clients are the major stakeholders of the Family Court but they are routinely excluded and/or disparaged/ defrauded by judges and others.
The usual claim about protecting children’s privacy cannot apply here. It is doubtful whether any child could even find details of either submission without adult help, and such adults have usually been banned from contact with any affected children.
Examination of the Australian Family Court Annual Report shows how close was the relationship between the recently retired Chief Justice Diana Bryant and AFCC. She was proud of the delegation of family consultants to represent the Family Court at some gatherings. Any of these could well be the sole expert witness advising a judge at a Family Court hearing. The potential for conflict of interest is obvious.
The old, illogical and discredited PAS (as defined and used by AFCC) is still used by Australian lawyers to force even their own clients to sign unsatisfactory so-called consent orders in corridors etc outside the Family Court. These false agreements can then be used by the judge to place or to leave abused children with abusive parents. At the same time, these court orders are used to exclude caring parents and others from the life of a child. The pre-judgement of which side will eventually win is probably made before or at the initial hearing.
A caring/losing client will often be advised that they need not attend personally. The false implication is that one’s own legal team can be trusted to represent the caring client. Such clients are victims of their own unworldliness regarding court matters.
Often the above consent agreements, which are often swiftly converted to court orders by a Registrar, are signed under threats or coercion by the lawyers of the more caring parent. While working under cover for the judge, these lawyers make sure they are paid by the caring party at every stage. Officially, the signed agreements are deemed to be the result of mediation or conciliation (hence the first ‘C’ in AFCC). Signing them means that an appeal can never be made but clients are not told of this. Thus, lawyers can virtually sack themselves when the client discovers the deception. But these lawyers have already been paid and they have earned the judge’s approval. They can therefore expect to progress in the profession and become judges themselves.
Of course, this forced signing results in decisions being made in the worst interests of the child and with total disregard for the 2012 Australian Family Law amendment which places the safety and welfare of children “front and centre”. A child’s so-called “best interests” can be re-defined according to the whim of a judge, and a child’s life ruined, along with that of that child’s principal carer who may have invested life savings in order to protect the child, and failed. That person could have been the child’s only link with normality, as all evidence regarding child abuse, family mental illness, and contraventions of existing court orders, are ignored and suppressed.
The United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (which enshrines the right of a child to have a voice in court proceedings regarding that child), is routinely ignored in the Australian Family Court.
Any client who officially complains about lawyers is likely to be blacklisted for years. If/when this client applies to have even slight contact restored after proven contraventions, the client will lose all contact with the child. All by order of the Court – which really means the judge who has openly colluded with the abusers’ lawyers.
One would find it difficult to believe that this cruelty and injustice could exist with full government approval in Australia unless one had experienced or been closely connected with such a case, as has this reviewer. The latter has witnessed a known prominent member of that cartel that is the AFCC Australian Chapter, systematically deprive a depressed and abused child of any hope of a decent future. This was done by alienating the non-abusing applicant from the child and ordering “indemnity” costs against the applicant. This was done in the judge’s full knowledge that the costs of pursuing this case had made the applicant dependent on taxpayer funded assistance for the first time ever.
The actual hearing for this was held in a distant place and at such short notice that neither the applicant nor their lawyer was able to attend in person. Thus, we can add lack of courage to the other undesirable character traits of some AFCC Australian Chapter judges.
There is no available membership list of AFCC Australian Chapter but the group is known to include judges, lawyers, barristers, family report writers (usually psychologists or social workers), and representatives of Australian Legal Aid and Relationships Australia, all of whom work within the Australian Family Court. While operating under the protection of the Australian Family Court, the Chapter is partly dependent on commercial support.
It lists among its conference sponsors for 2016 a prominent family law firm, a member of which was recently appointed to the Board of AFCC Australian Chapter.
Another sponsor of Australian Chapter conferences is a US subscription-based website which places online, details of contact arrangements for children of separated families.
One parent can enrol the other without his/her consent and the relevant children also have free (but allegedly limited) access. Family law professionals also have free access to information on the cases in which they are involved. AFCC has also been associated with a phone app which permits its members to receive confidential messages during conferences. One has to wonder why this app exists and what it can do that an ordinary mobile phone cannot. Also, why some images of young children in AFCC promotional online documents seem sexualized. Surely those in charge of AFCC realize that all this makes their conferences a magnet for paedophiles. Or are they really so naïve and out of touch that they have no idea of how they are self-portrayed?
Below is a draft list of people with some link to AFCC Australian Chapter, as published online. It is not complete.
Judges are indicated by an *.
Bikerdike (or) Bickerdike, Andrew
Entwhisle, Dr Timothy. Attended hearing of Senate Inquiry re AHPRA Mar 17 but did not give evidence.
List, David – also gave evidence at 2017 Senate hearing into AHPRA complaints
Neoh, Jenni – also gave evidence at 2017 Senate hearing into AHPRA complaints
Spong, Belinda – see above note re AHPRA.