NZ Bar backs Family Court amid controversy

by Sol Dolor01 May 2017
The New Zealand Bar Association says that critics are placing undue blame on the Family Court even though there are better avenues to seek reforms of the system.

“The aim of the collective to shine a light on domestic violence is to be commended. However, it would be more helpful for the Collective to present properly collated evidence to Parliament’s Justice and Electoral Committee on the Family and Whanau Legislation Bill, rather than to unjustifiably lay blame at the door of the Family Court,” the Bar said in a statement.

The support comes after the Backbone Collective, a national group of violence-against-women survivors campaigning for changes to the Family Court and its processes, released a statement saying that the court is placing women and children at risk. The group had formulated 160 questions, based on experiences of 10 court users, and has asked the Family Court to answer all of them.

The Bar said that Principal Family Court Judge Laurence Ryan is correct to point out that the allegations and questions are based on anecdotal examples given by a relatively small number of disaffected litigants.

“In this regard, it must be remembered that whenever a court makes a decision, there is likely to be at least one dissatisfied party. However, that does not mean that the court has failed in its duty to apply the law, nor that it has placed women or children at risk,” the Bar said.

The support comes after the New Zealand Law Society also said that the collective would achieve better results if their queries and suggestions were directed to the Justice and Electoral Committee on the Family and Whanau Legislation Bill.

The Bar said that the safety and welfare of children is the Family Court’s utmost concern, which is why the protection of children is “deeply enshrined not only in law, but also in practice.”

The Bar disputes that collective’s claim that the Family Court is not accountable, saying that any decision reached by the court is subject to an appeal process. Any judge who does not behave appropriately is also subject to independent review, it said. The Family Court also does not lack transparency, the Bar added, because the media is allowed to attend hearings and report on decisions, which themselves are accessible by the public.

“There is no doubt that domestic violence is a major problem in our society, which must be addressed urgently. However, to say that the Family Court supports, contributes to or perpetuates such violence is entirely inaccurate,” the Bar said.