February 8, 2016
Source: Perth Now
A LANDMARK United Nations decision has found WA authorities violated the human rights of a father and son who were torn apart by an international custody and child abduction dispute.
But the UN Human Rights Committee’s ruling has dismayed one of WA’s top judges, who claims his court was not given the opportunity to provide information to the committee.
The UN upheld the complaint from a Polish-Australian father after his estranged wife took their son, then aged five, from Poland to WA in 2010 without his knowledge or consent. A Polish court had awarded the father sole custody.
The case is the first Australian family law matter to come before the UN committee, which ruled Australian authorities were guilty of an “arbitrary interference” in the father and son’s family life.
In a rare public statement on an individual case, Family Court of WA Chief Judge Stephen Thackray hit out at the UN, saying it relied on “misleading information”.
“If we had been asked, we would have been very pleased to assist the UN committee by ensuring that it had accurate information. Unfortunately, the information provided to the committee was quite misleading,” Judge Thackray said.
“It is particularly unfortunate that the committee did not appreciate that the complainant (father) had refused every opportunity offered to him to participate in the proceedings in the Family Court of WA.”
Whether Australian authorities respect or reject the UN’s views remains to be seen, as it is not enforceable here.
The boy’s father argued that the Australian embassy in Warsaw helped his then-wife escape Poland, by getting their Polish-born son an emergency passport and drove them to the airport. The family had lived in Perth for three years before returning in 2009 to Poland, where the marriage crumbled.
His estranged spouse claimed she was the victim of domestic abuse — an accusation the father denies.
In 2011, a Family Court of WA judge ordered the boy be returned to Poland, but later that year the court’s full bench overturned that decision.
The court awarded sole parental responsibility to the mother in May 2014, with supervised access in Australia for the father.
The UN committee concluded Australia was obliged to provide an “effective remedy”, including ensuring regular contact between father and son, adequate compensation to the father and preventing similar violations in the future.
The 56-year-old father told The Sunday Times from Poland this week he would never give up fighting for his child and was hopeful Australia would accept the UN’s ruling.
He said he had had no contact with his son, now aged 11, since mid-2014.
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