British members of Parliament have accused the Austrian judicial system of corruption, and alleged that a conspiracy has taken place, in relation to the case of a UK-born woman who lost custody of her twin sons in Austria.
A recent appeal to the Austrian Supreme Court by Beth Schlesinger (née Alexander) for custody of her twin boys, aged 4.5, was rejected last week in a one-word response that read “refused.”
The Supreme Court decision is the latest in a series of controversial rulings that have evoked consternation towards the Austrian justice system from Jewish organizations and politicians in the UK and further afield.
Schlesinger, a Jewish woman from Manchester in the UK, married an Austrian man in October 2006 and subsequently moved to Vienna with him.
The marriage quickly broke down and both parents applied for sole custody of the children in 2009. At one stage, Schlesinger’s ex-husband, a doctor, tried to have her committed to a mental institute by bringing paramedics to their home to sedate her, although this attempt failed, and Mr.
Schlesinger was subsequently evicted from their home by the police for this action.
Nevertheless, a judge in the Austrian family courts awarded the father full custody, despite the recommendations of the social services, for the district where the family lived, and despite the previous ruling of an appeal court that had denied the father’s appeal against an earlier custody award to Beth.
Before the July 2011 ruling, the court heard evidence from police, paramedics and a police psychiatrist, all confirming that Schlesinger was mentally stable.
However, the judge relied on a report of a court psychologist who wrote that she was mentally ill, although this assessment was subsequently refuted in November 2011 by a court psychiatrist who said that she had never suffered from mental illness in the past or currently. A second psychiatric report also found no mental problems with Mrs. Schlesinger.
The family court judge also ignored the demands of the Appeal Court and the Supreme Court ordering new assessments on her children and the father, despite significant developmental problems experienced by them, while the father has to date not been psychiatrically evaluated by the court, despite worrying evidence about his behavior.
Parliamentarians in the UK brought the case to the attention of the House of Commons on Tuesday evening, with MP Graham Stringer describing the case as “Kafkaesque,” and asked that the government take action on the matter.
“What has happened to Beth Schlesinger belies understanding,” said Stringer.
“Authorities have taken decisions about her life and her children’s lives that are inexplicable and certainly unjust,” the MP said.
Stringer also referenced allegations that an Austrian High Court judge who is friendly with Mr. Schlesinger’s family met with the Family Court judge hearing the case, Judge Susanne Gottlicher, to ask that a private meeting be set up with the father. Mrs. Schlesinger says that following the judge’s meeting with the father, Gottlicher apologized to her for having met with him.
In addition, Stringer also noted that the husband of the High Court judge friendly with Mr. Schlesinger’s family was the manager of the court psychologist who had submitted the erroneous report on Mrs. Schlesinger’s mental health. He also worked in the same hospital as Mr. Schlesinger.
“I don’t usually believe in conspiracies but in this case the decisions that were taken were so strange that one has to suspect that undue influence, and conspiracy, were taking place,” MP Stringer told the House of Commons.
“Brought to its bare bones, this case is about a violent father who has been violent towards the mother of his children, and other members of the family, and who has been given custody of two children,” Stringer concluded.
Ivan Lewis, another UK member of Parliament who has dealt with the case, also spoke out against the Austrian judicial system, calling the case “one of the worst miscarriages of justice,” he has ever experienced during his time in elected office.
“Beth Schlesinger was falsely and cruelly labeled mentally ill and an unfit mother, labels both disproved by independent professionals,” said Lewis, who also mentioned that one of the twins had, since being in the father’s custody, been referred for professional help for self harming.
The MP added that “after two and a half years in the care of their father, they are suffering from seriously impaired development and appear traumatized.”
Lewis recited a list of problems with the case history, saying that “the father’s documented history of abusive behavior has not even been considered by the relevant court,” and also said that the High Court judge was “a friend of the father’s family, who sought to influence the judge hearing the case on behalf of the father.”
The MPs also noted that the one-word response by the Supreme Court to the request for the right of appeal was very unusual.
Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office MP David Lidington addressed the concerns of MPs Stringer and Lewis but said that intervening in the judicial process would be extremely hard.
He said, however, that should Schlesinger’s legal team approach the Foreign Office “with significant and substantiated concerns,” regarding the procedural flaws, “we would certainly be prepared to consider such representations, and consider raising them with the Austrian authorities.”
Schlesinger is also facing increasing problems in getting access to her children in her allotted visiting hours, which amount to just 10 hours a week, since the visiting center which facilitates the transfer of the children to her is now refusing to continue this service after the end of January.
Schlesinger is concerned that without new arrangements and cooperation from her ex-husband she will be unable to gain access at all to her children.
“For so long we've all been too scared to publicly use terms like conspiracy theories and corruption. I'm so relieved that the MPs in Tuesday's debate named this bizarre case for what it is,” Mrs. Schlesinger told The Jerusalem Post.
“As more and more pieces of the jigsaw fit together, it is clear that my children and I are the innocent victims of something very sinister and evil. I am sickened that my gorgeous little boys have been used and abused in this way by people that don't care one iota about their welfare.
“I hope we can now rely on the British government to restore sanity and bring us justice at last.”
The Jerusalem Post asked for comment from the Austrian Ministry of Justice and for clarification as to whether a review of the procedural flaws in the case could be conducted by the Ministry.
A response was not received by time of press.
Attempts to contact Mr. Schlesninger were not successful.
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