Tears as petition for Family Court inquiry handed over

17 AUG 2017

Tears as petition for Family Court inquiry handed over

A petition calling for an inquiry into the Family Court has made its way to Parliament. Shane Cowlishaw reports.

Terrible weather in the capital has not stopped an advocacy group delivering their tearful demands for family law reform to Parliament.

More than 2800 people signed an open letter calling for an inquiry into the Family Court.

Organised by Community in Action (CIA), the letter was written by a group of domestic violence survivors and is in support of a call by another advocacy group, the Backbone Collective.

The Backbone Collective has a fraught history with the Family Court.

“If we stand up and say ‘this is reality and this isn’t OK’, it gives it a bit more weight…it’s our children, it’s our families, and it’s devastating.”

Earlier this year it released a report about its concerns with the judicial system that included 160 questions posed by members of the collective.

It was not received well by authorities, with Principal Family Court Judge Laurence Ryan issuing a press statement following the report’s release, labelling its claims “erroneous”.

It was an extraordinary step, considering the judiciary usually remain silent on such matters.

“Many of the questions addressed to this office relate to matters either already being actively considered by Parliament around family violence, or which have been dealt with by Parliament relatively recently,” Judge Ryan said.

A Newsroom investigation Taken By The State revealed shocking footage of police enforcing court orders to uplift children in the night from parents who had breached parenting orders.

It has raised several questions about the issuing of ‘without notice’ warrants, with Justice Minister Amy Adams asking officials to investigate why the number of urgent without notice applications have increased.

Victims of domestic violence march on Parliament to seek an inquiry into the Family Court. Photo: Lynn Grieveson

 

CIA spokeswoman Ninakaye Taanetinorau said the group were marching to Parliament to add credence to the issue.

“If we stand up and say ‘this is reality and this isn’t OK’, it gives it a bit more weight…it’s our children, it’s our families, and it’s devastating.”

Taanetinorau said the videos showing child uplifts were shocking and a much needed insight for society.

Complex situations, especially those involving family violence, were not being dealt with adequately by the Family Court, she said.

The letter was handed over to politicians including Nanaia Mahuta, Marama Davidson, Louise Wall, Poto Williams, and Jan Logie.

Davidson said the Māori Party would support not only an inquiry into the Family Court, but every facet of government.

“We would support a review into every system of the Government and ask the same thing; are there equitable outcomes, are people prejudiced, are they women, are they children, are they Māori, are they Pasifika, are they migrant families and if they are fix it. It’s not that difficult.

“Women do it hard in this country, they raise families on their own, they have to put up with a system of government and in the courts and all over the place that prejudice against them. We just want equitable outcomes for our families and for a Government and a country that helps families grow stronger, not decimate them.”

Last week Labour leader Jacinda Ardern called the uplift footage “horrific” and said the Labour Party was in favour of a review of the Family Court.

Justice Minister Amy Adams told Newsroom that tackling family violence had been her number one priority as Justice Minister since taking on the role.

“I respect the petition and those who have delivered it to Parliament today,” she said.

“I will always be open to hearing from victims of family violence and court users to better understand how we can improve the system for them and their families. I would say though that many of the concerns that have been expressed appear to relate to the way that individual judges apply the law, which as Minister of Justice I cannot comment on.

“The process can be fraught and difficult, but judges must act on the best evidence before them when making decisions,” Adams said.

“In respect of the legal frameworks that underpin family court processes, I am currently in the process of reforming the domestic violence laws and all groups have been able to feed into this process through both an earlier discussion document and more recently the select committee process on the Bill. In addition I have asked officials to carry out a review of the Family Court reforms of 2014 which will look at how they are working in practice and if they are achieving the intended outcomes.”