ACT wants family and youth courts opened up

August 25th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Act Party leader Dr Jamie Whyte said the party wants to see Youth Court and Family Court open to public scrutiny.

Dr Whyte said in a policy announcement today that there should be a right to access Youth Court and Family Court records.

Media should be able to report on cases through the Youth Court and Family Court in a similar way they can report on District Court proceedings, he said.

“The Act Party is campaigning to end secret courts” Dr Whyte said.

“There is no way of analysing and understanding what is going on in the family court.

“There are disturbing stories that evidence in Family Court cases is unreliable.”

Dr Whyte said the “secrecy” of the Youth Court was the biggest problem in the youth justice system.

“It is a wholly unjustified violation of the principle of open justice.”

The party supported names and identifying details of parties remaining suppressed, Dr Whyte said.

As I understand it the default mode for these courts is not to be public, but media can apply for access. ACT seem to be saying they would reverse the default setting so that access is the norm.

So long as names are suppressed, I favour all courts having a default setting of being open to the media.

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Family Court reforms working

July 29th, 2014 at 5:09 pm by David Farrar

Judith Collins announced:

More parents are resolving their disputes outside of court only months after the Government’s family justice reforms came into effect, Justice Minister Judith Collins announced today.

“Progress to date confirms our reforms are empowering people to resolve their parenting disputes outside of court, minimising the stress children often face when their parents separate,” Ms Collins says.

Since the Government’s reforms came into effect on 31 March this year, 562 assessments for the New Family Disputes Resolution (FDR) mediation service have been completed and another 530 are in progress.

Of the 122 mediations completed, 87 (71 per cent) have resolved all matters in dispute between parties, without going to court. Urgent matters, such as those involving family violence, still go straight to court.

The number of Guardianship applications to the Family Court has also dropped from 481 per week to 231 per week.

That’s great. Going to court should be the last resort for family disputes, but it was basically the first resort for any couples with parenting disputes.

“It’s fantastic to see parents making a real effort to work their problems out themselves. As a result, they avoid the unnecessary conflict, delays and expense the court process may involve, and the Family Court remains free to focus on the most serious and urgent matters.”

Mediation is much preferable to court action, except of course for cases of violence etc. This is a really encouraging trend.

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Why not go without the child?

February 16th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

A woman watched her grandmother die over the internet after a custody order prevented her from leaving New Zealand with her young son.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, wanted her son to see his great-grandmother in Malaysia before she died.

But the Family Court banned the pair from leaving the country because the boy’s New Zealand father believed his ex-wife was a flight risk.

“I had to watch her pass away over Skype. It was the most horrific thing because people who are dying respond to touch and she couldn’t even hear me,” the woman said. “I just wanted to be there with her. We were very close.”

So why didn’t she fly over without her son, and have the father look after the son for a few days?

The woman who missed her grandmother’s death said she had been to Malaysia with her son once before and had returned without issue. “I am not a flight risk. I just wanted to see my grandmother and wanted my son to see her as well.”

The previous time may not have been when they were separated. I don’t know. But the reality is that she chose to stay in NZ, rather than travel without her son.

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Another protection order, another woman dead

November 29th, 2013 at 11:00 am by Jadis

I think few people will be surprised to hear that another woman has been killed by a man who she had a protection order against.

Police have named Sarwan Lata Singh as the 38-year-old woman found dead at a Wellington home in the suburb of Woodridge early Tuesday.

A man has been charged with her murder – and with breaching a protection order meant to keep him away from her.

The reality is that protection orders are pieces of paper.  They are useful as a means of accelerating action if a person is able to report to Police that the order has been breached.  Sadly, we have had too many cases of late where women in particular have been killed or seriously injured at the hands of someone who had one of these orders placed on them.

So if a breach of a protection order occurs, what can happen?  Police advise says:

The Court will give highest priority to the victim’s safety when considering bail applications. Where there is evidence that a breach of a Protection Order has occurred, the person will be arrested and cannot be bailed by the Police for 24 hours.

A breach includes failing to attend a ‘stopping violence’ programme.

The maximum penalty for breach of a Protection Order is six months in prison or a $5000 fine. The penalty increases to two years in prison where three offences are committed within three years. If other serious crimes of violence are involved, the penalties could be even more serious.

The most recent Ministry of Justice figures show that the number of people  convicted of breaching protection orders, by court location and year is:

    Court location 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013*

Christchurch 145 166 125 140 87

Hamilton 88 118 113 109 51

Rotorua 86 83 89 84 45

Auckland 89 85 83 94 41

Dunedin 50 33 48 49 27

Wellington 60 47 49 58 20

*Up to June 30, 2013

So are pieces the paper the answer?  Probably not but they are part of a multi-pronged approach and this Government has done much to strengthen the legislative framework.

Former Principal Family Court Judge Pete Boshier reflected on his time in the role:

In my time as a judge I have dealt with thousands of family violence cases, and that includes applications by women victims of violence for protection orders. The intensity and range of abuse is deplorable and at times I have felt deeply affected by what I have read. All judges are affected in this way. Family violence in our country will not be eradicated by legislative recognition and ongoing commitment by Police in isolation. Time and time again we need to give messages that family violence is harmful, that it injures our country and that it has enormous consequences. Until we get real about this, our progress in eliminating family violence will be too slow. I dream of a New Zealand in which family violence is not the norm for so many families and where there are happy, safe, secure children whose lives are very different from those of generations that have preceded them.

In the same speech Boshier suggests we create specific charges that are for family violence, ensure that assault charges specifically mention family violence in the way they are recorded and much more to put a public face to family violence offenders.

Of course, these measures all take place after assaults and other forms of violence take place. So, do we leave it down to education programmes to get people to understand what is and isn’t violence, to act early and report often?  What other measures need to be put in place?  There has been much talk of rape culture of late – do we also have a ‘violence culture’ (it could be argued they are one in the same) and is it always ‘over there’ and ‘not in my backyard’?

 

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Family Court reforms

August 3rd, 2012 at 11:58 am by David Farrar

Judith Collins has announced:

“Our reforms will ensure the Family Court renews its focus towards those who need it most. The Court must put the needs of children first, rather than those of private couples with relationship issues.

“To better support victims of domestic violence, we’re increasing the penalty for breaching a protection order, recognising ‘economic abuse’ as a form of psychological abuse, and improving stopping domestic violence programmes.

“We’re introducing a new Family Disputes Resolution (FDR) service which will become a cornerstone feature of our family justice system, particularly for Care of Children Act cases. FDR will minimise the harmful impact conflict has on children with about 4,000 fewer court applications and 2,000 fewer children going to Court each year.

Excellent. Children should not be in court, unless absolutely necessary. The FAQ states:

It will become mandatory for parties to attempt Family Dispute Resolution before applying to the Court, unless an exemption applies. Access to the court is still available if FDR is unsuccessful.

So no heading straight to court.

Some types of disputes will not be suitable for FDR. For example, where there is a history of domestic violence or child abuse, where a party’s safety could be at risk, a significant power imbalance exists, or due to illness or disability.

Sensible exceptions.

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Family Court Fees

June 15th, 2012 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post editorial:

The Government’s review discussion paper also argues that although the state has a clear role in protecting children and vulnerable adults, its role in resolving what are private parenting squabbles should be reduced. It says, “The court should promote children’s welfare, not parents’ rights”. Neither the Greens nor Labour can fault that, surely? The discussion paper considers, too, whether Domestic Violence Act matters should properly become the preserve of the Domestic Violence Courts, and asks whether opening Family Court hearings to greater public scrutiny might make the courts more transparent and the parties more accountable for what is said in court.

Chief Family Court judge Peter Boshier notes the trivial matters that, under present arrangements, reach the bench time and again. “Answers are sought from judges”, he says, “on everything from choice of school to choice of surnames”. Thus, the new fee regime is the least of Family Court issues that should worry Opposition MPs and family lawyers. If its processes are being abused, the family law community has a responsibility not only to ensure that taxpayers get value for the millions they invest in this branch of law, but also that children, not their parents, are front and centre in the process. A Family Court hearing should surely be a last resort.

I think the emphasis on the Family Court being a last resort for feuding couples is the correct one. Having taxpayers pay for court rulings on which school a kid goes to is bad for us, but also bad for the kid that his or her parents have no incentive to sort such disputes out themselves.

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