17:42 AEST Tue Aug 7 2012
By Ehssan Veiszadeh
Four sisters at the centre of an international custody dispute are one step closer to being sent back to Italy after the High Court found they hadn't been treated unfairly in their legal case.
The sisters, aged nine to 15, attracted national media attention in May when they went into hiding to avoid a Family Court order to return to Italy so the custody dispute could be settled there.
The girls, who hold dual Italian-Australian citizenship, travelled to Australia with their mother in 2010 for a one-month holiday and have remained here since.
The father shares custody with the mother and has sought their return to Italy.
The girls have said they want to remain in Australia with their mother, and earlier this year turned to the media to state their case.
Tony Morris QC, legal representative for the girls' litigation guardian, argued in the High Court in Canberra on Tuesday that the sisters had been denied procedural fairness.
Mr Morris said the sisters should have the right to be active litigants in the case.
But Chief Justice Robert French rejected the constitutional challenge, saying the girls suffered "no want of procedural fairness".
Mr Morris was disappointed with the court's decision.
Chief Justice Robert French talking after the hearing finished saidThe court is of the opinion that the challenge fails.
The full reasons behind the ruling would be published at a later date.
"I would have personally been more comfortable if the court had recognised a greater set of rights for children and young people," he told reporters.
Mr Morris said the High Court challenge may have been the last resort for the sisters.
"The day when we applied initially in the High Court, my understanding is the girls would have been on a plane that evening if we hadn't brought that application."
Queensland solicitor-general Walter Sofronoff QC earlier told the High Court it was "abhorrent" to suggest children could appear in the witness box in custody cases.
He argued children might lack the necessary development in thinking to take part in litigation.
Justice Kenneth Hayne said having a child appear in an open court was "hardly a practical outcome".
The girls' father told reporters outside the court he was "relaxed" after the judgement was handed down.
"It's a good judgement," he said, speaking through an interpreter.
The case now returns to the full court of the Family Court, to consider an appeal on the original decision.
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