Hague Mothers was recently invited to a Hague Abduction Convention roundtable event as part of the Attorney-General’s consultation process. Here’s what happened (spoiler – it was a success!). Our thanks and appreciation to Miranda Kaye, Yvette Cehtel, Jessica Raffal, and Gina Masterton for their expert participation. You did us proud!
In Australia, a body called the Family Law Council (FLC) advises and makes recommendations to the Federal Attorney-General about any matters relating to family law. The terms of reference which set out the priority considerations for the Council’s agenda are endorsed by the Attorney-General. The current terms of reference include an explicit acknowledgment that the implementation of the Hague Abduction Convention can result in unsafe returns for women and children fleeing violence. The Family Law Council meets four times each year and has a range of members including current and former family law judges, family law researchers, family dispute resolution practitioners and lawyers from private practice, Legal Aid and community law centres including the Aboriginal Legal Service. Their role is significant.
We were therefore delighted to be invited to meet with the Council in Melbourne to discuss how best to safeguard mothers and their children who are caught up in Hague proceedings. The invitation to us as an organisation is recognition that our activism has paid off: we are acknowledged as a legitimate actor by the Australian government.
It was wonderful for Jessica, Yvette and Miranda to meet in person over lunch before our appearance at the FLC. We confirmed our strategy for the meeting which essentially was sixfold:
- That the wording of the new Note in relation to judges taking account of family violence in Hague cases should say that they ‘must’ do so, rather than the current ‘may’.
- That the Note should be clarified to explicitly say that if there is a grave risk then judge must consider non-return. We are concerned that the current drafting continues to privilege return with ‘protective measures’.
- There should be something in the regulation to note that the presence of protective measures does not mean women and children are safe.
- That we wanted a rectification of the current inequality of legal representation in these cases.
- That the role of the Australian Central Authority be reviewed to be less partisan.
- Australia should clear up its act domestically and lead the way internationally by action, not words.
When we arrived at the Melbourne Family Court we were delighted to hear Gina already presenting via Zoom. She very clearly set out the injustices of the current system which meant that we could simply focus on ways forward. The Council was extremely receptive to our ideas, asked pertinent and thoughtful questions, and could not have been more welcoming. We were particularly pleased we were the only ‘experts’ in the room for our session, having been concerned that other groups with different agendas might have been present.
We are hopeful that our concerns, and proposed solutions will be implemented. But, even if the meeting does not result in immediate FLC recommendations to the Attorney-General, all four of us agreed that the meeting itself has helped to raise the profile of Hague Mothers and demonstrated our expertise in these matters.