Custody battle goes before High Court

AN international custody battle between a Sunshine Coast mother, her four daughters and their Italian father will be heard by the full bench of the High Court in Canberra on Tuesday, August 7.

The four girls have been fighting a deportation order, handed down by the Family Court, to face custody proceedings in Italy.

Their great-aunt has acted as litigation guardian and legal representative Tony Morris have helped their legal plight since fleeing Italy with their mother in 2010.

The girls went into hiding for several weeks in defiance of the deportation order and ended up in foster care when police found them in late May.

A recent court order returned them to their mother's care, with the father able to see them on weekends for the case duration.

None of the parties involved in the case can be identified for legal reasons.

The crux of the impending High Court case rests on Mr Morris's argument that the girls were denied procedural fairness by not having a legal representative committed to their interests, thus not taking their views properly into account.

This argument goes to the core of Australia's judicial system and its treatment of children in custody battles, and could have the potential to set a legal precedent.

Several documents were filed with the court in the past fortnight with the Commonwealth, Western Australian and South Australian governments all intervening in the case.

While Attorney-General Nicola Roxon would not comment on a case before the courts, the intervening submission from her office argued "outside the context of a trial for a criminal offence, (procedural) fairness does not require that a person be legally represented".

The South Australian Solicitor-General submitted that even when the views of a child were relevant to the case, there were other ways of taking their views into account .

The Western Australian Attorney-General also raised the issue that precedents had shown different children had different views at different times.

This, the WA submission said, would require separate individual legal representations of each of the four girls, the cost of which "would be extreme".

The case will be heard by the full court of the High Court in Canberra on Tuesday.