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Child abuse in the Family Court

By Sunita Shaunak - posted Tuesday, 29 July 2008

It was with more than a little incredulity that I read the comments of the Chief Justice of the Family Court, Diana Bryant in The Australian, as reported by Stephen Lunn (July 11, 2008). I have many years of experience both in and peripheral to the Family Court of Australia and it is my view that it is a system which is complicit in the abuse of our children, much like other institutions such as the Catholic and Anglican Churches and state-run children's homes.

The damage inflicted by the court system on our children is yet to be exposed. Lunn, in his article, reports the Chief Justice as stating that her judges are "not qualified" to speak directly to the children who are the subject of their decisions, nor should the public "expect them to be".

Lunn further quotes the Chief Justice as stating that this is because her judges "have the luxury of really good reports from highly qualified experts" and that these reports are an "extremely valuable tool for a judge".


Her Honour is, I believe, fully aware that in March of this year one of her Court's own "experts", psychologist Dr William Wrigley, was disciplined in Queensland by his professional board for producing reports for the Family Court, in which he stated that a parent was suffering from a psychiatric illness, Parental Alienation Syndrome or PAS, which caused them to manufacture completely false allegations of sexual and other abuse against the other parent.

This was despite the parent’s - and children's - concerns, regarding the alleged abuse by the other parent being supported by six other well respected professionals.

Based on the assessments of the Court’s “expert”, and with the complete dismissal of the assessments of the six other experts involved, the children were immediately removed by the Family Court from the care of the alleging parent - where they had been since birth - and ordered to live with the parent accused of abusing them.

The other experts, despite being publicly ridiculed by the Chief Justice and being labelled as essentially unprofessional, biased and incompetent, have never resiled from their concerns regarding the abuse of these children by that parent.

It was reported by Tony Koch in an article in The Australian ("Ruling debunks custody diagnosis", April 7, 2008) that, in disciplinary proceedings conducted against Dr Wrigley the Queensland Psychologists' Board had determined that Dr Wrigley had acted in a manner which "constituted professional conduct that demonstrates incompetence or a lack of adequate knowledge, skill, care or judgment".

Professor Carolyn Quadrio, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at the University of New South Wales, in a recent interview on ABC Radio with Madonna King, confirmed that PAS did not exist and has never existed. Professor Quadrio said “It has been used at times by people who perhaps have not read the literature well enough to realise that there is no syndrome [PAS]”. Despite this, PAS has been used for years by "experts" appointed by the Family Court to provide reports in child abuse cases, including sexual abuse. These "experts" have also lectured to Family Court judges on PAS and at the same time and most alarmingly, their professional opinions on child abuse.


Their prevailing view would appear to be that most protective parents and their children lie about their abuse.I am unable to locate one single piece of credible research which supports this view, yet it persists in the Family Court, resulting in obscene tragedies.

Koch in his front-page article in The Australian (July 29, 2005) titled "Family Court; putting children last" details how an increasing number of child welfare experts now refuse to give evidence in the Family Court because they are belittled, subjected to abusive cross-examination, dismissed and finally ignored with regards to their professional opinions.

The aim of the lawyers, it would seem - including those who are supposed to represent the children - is to find any grounds at all to discredit protective parents and their children, rather than view all of the child abuse evidence in its entirety, backed by sound, peer-reviewed child psychiatry.This, I believe and am informed, has resulted in an environment in the Family Court where non-existent psychiatry, such as PAS, has been created by “experts”.

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About the Author

Dr Sunita Shaunak is a dentist, in general practice, currently working in Brisbane. She attended the 2020 Summit in the Health Stream. At a recent conference in Adelaide, Dr Shaunak was invited to speak of her experiences in the Family Court of Australia.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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