Inquest into the Deaths of Heather GLENDINNING and Jessica Rose CUZENS and Jane Lesley Margaret CUZENS
Delivered on :21 July 2016
Delivered at : Perth
Finding of : Coroner King
Recommendation No. 1
That the Department of Child Protection and Family Services and the Family Court of Western Australia, including independent children’s lawyers, develop and implement a procedure to share proactively, where appropriate, information relevant to the health and safety of children the subject of custody disputes.
Recommendation No. 2
That the Family Court of Western Australia provide litigants in custody disputes with information indicating how mental illness may be considered by the Court.
Recommendation No. 3
That steps be taken by Government to ensure so far as practicable that judges of the Family Court are able to obtain psychiatric reports when required to determine the best interests of children the subject of custody disputes.
Orders/Rules : N/A
Suppression Order : N/A
Summary : On 5 December 2011 Heather Glendinning killed her daughters, Jessica Rose and Jane Lesley Margaret Cuzens and then killed herself. Glendinning was affected by severe mental illness. These events were preceded by a long and acrimonious custody battle in the Family Court of Western Australia between Ms Glendinning and her ex-partner Harley Cuzens, the father of her daughters.
Ms Glendenning had a history of mental illness. Her condition was exacerbated by cannabis abuse, lack of sleep and prolonged stress associated with fruitless legal proceedings. At times she sought help for her illness, but she was reluctant to engage with clinicians due to a concern that it would be used against her in the custody dispute. At no time did she give any indication of an intention to harm herself or her daughters.
The focus of the inquest was on the nature and quality of the contacts Ms Glendinning had with various agencies while involved in the Family Court dispute, with a view to determining whether anything could have been done differently which may have led to a better outcome. The Coroner was satisfied that in the prevailing circumstances, it was difficult to see how the agencies could have acted differently.
The Coroner explored the sharing of information between the Family Court, the independent children’s lawyer and the Department of Child Protection and Family Services. The evidence established that there was currently no provision for the Department of Child Protection and Family Services proactively to provide information that might affect the interests of children in the Family Court process. The Coroner made his first recommendation in respect to the sharing of information between those entities.
The Coroner was provided with evidence about the possibility of the Family Court publishing information to clarify its attitude towards mental illness in order to allow parties to disclose their mental illness without fear of it being used unfairly in a court case. The evidence indicated that judicial officers of the Family Court are independent and cannot be subject to position statements, so the framing of any published information could be problematic. However, there would be value in making clear to parties that parties’ mental illnesses would not be held against them per se but would be taken into consideration as part of the decision-making process. The Coroner made his second recommendation in the light of this evidence, appreciating that the details of what could be published may require much consideration.
The Coroner heard evidence that in 2007 a judge of the Family Court requested psychiatric assessments of Ms Glendinning and Mr Cuzens but was told that a report could not be prepared for financial and practical reasons. Unlike criminal court judges, Family Court judges have no power to order psychiatric reports despite having to determine what is in the best interests of children. The Coroner’s third recommendation arose from that evidence.
The Coroner supported the possibility of an independent counselling for children who are the subject of custody disputes in the Family Court. He also commented that, if they do not already do so, public health authorities should publish information about the potentially dire psychological consequences of cannabis abuse.
The Coroner found that Heather Glendinning died on 5 December 2011 from multiple sharp force injuries and that death occurred by way of suicide.
The Coroner found that Jessica Rose Cuzens died on 5 December 2011 from multiple injuries and that death occurred by way of homicide
The Coroner found that Jane Lesley Margaret Cuzens died on 5 December 2011 from multiple sharp force injuries and that death occurred by way of homicide.
Catch Words : Family Court disputes : Mental Illness : Suicide : Homicide: Cannabis: Stress
Last updated: 18-Oct-2016
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