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  • Judge claims intimidation in row over child custody
  • By David Wroe - Canberra
  • The Age
  • 02/12/2003 Make a Comment
  • Contributed by: admin ( 75 articles in 2003 )
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A The Chief Justice of the Family Court has accused a federal MP of attempting to intimidate him by calling for his resignation amid a heated public debate over child custody.

Chris Pearce, Liberal MP for the eastern Melbourne seat of Aston and a member of the parliamentary committee examining reforms to joint custody law, said yesterday Chief Justice Alastair Nicholson should step down because he had unduly tried to influence the committee.

A prominent parenting lobby group, the Shared Parenting Council of Australia, joined the call for Justice Nicholson's resignation.

But Justice Nicholson told The Age via a spokeswoman he had no intention of resigning. "I view calls for my resignation by the Victorian MP Chris Pearce and the Shared Parenting Council of Australia as an attempt to intimidate me in the carrying out of my duties," he said.

The outspoken Justice Nicholson has attacked suggestions that the Family Court should be stripped of the power to adjudicate in child custody battles.

The committee, due to report by the end of the year, is expected to recommend that a tribunal comprised of psychologists and legal experts be set up to decide how custody is shared between separating parents. The Family Court would deal only with financial disputes arising from the separation.

The committee was initiated by Prime Minister John Howard to examine the idea of rebuttable presumption of joint custody, which means the Family Court would assume joint custody of children unless there were good reasons to favour either parent.

Justice Nicholson has been a vocal opponent of the idea, saying it could jeopardise children's interests. He recently described the idea as unworkable and "far too simplistic". Justice Nicholson is due to retire in March.

An angry Mr Pearce issued a statement yesterday urging him to "bring forward his much anticipated retirement... and retire now".

He said Justice Nicholson was breaching the separation of powers between the judiciary and Parliament.

"These have not been light-hearted comments. They have been very strong attacks," he said. "Justice Nicholson's attack on the committee... confirms his total lack of regard and respect for the parliamentary process and the Parliament's role in developing and legislating the laws of Australia.

"It is Justice Nicholson's role to administer the law and not to make it."

The committee's chairwoman, National MP Kay Hull, chose not to comment. "Obviously this is a personal issue for Mr Pearce and Chief Justice Nicholson," she said.

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