Difficulties in sexual abuse cases

Who is your expert?

The case of Lane & Nichols [2106] FamCAFC234 highlights the issue of the expert to be used in proceedings and the ensuing problems.

In this case the mother made serious allegations that a 5 year old child had been sexually abused by her father.  The child had made disclosures to the mother and others but not to FACS or JIRT.  The father denied any inappropriate conduct and alleged that the disclosures were made as a result of coaching by the mother and in the context of financial issues before the court.

The question to be determined at the first court case was whether the father should have supervised time with the daughter at a supervised contact centre.

After the hearing an appeal was filed and heard by the Full Court of Appeal.

The judges of the Appeal Court expressed concern that both the sexual assault counsellor and the family consultant who gave evidence and provided a report were social workers.  The resumes of each of them were considered.

The judgment disclosed:

  • There was no evidence in the resumes that identified the sexual assault counsellor and the family consultant as experts qualified to express admissible expert opinion on whether the subject allegations of sexual abuse were likely to be true,
  • There was no opinion expressed of an expert kind as to whether or not the child spending time at a contact centre with the father posed some risk of psychological harm to the child.

Problems with the sexual assault counsellor’s report reports and the evidence may be summarised as follows:

  • Failure to particularise what information was given to her in therapy that led to her belief that even supervised contact would traumatise the child.
  • Failure to explain any basis for her conclusion.
  • Failure to observe any interaction between the father and the child.
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