New Zealand Law Society - Submission on Family Court review best approach: protesting outside Judges' homes won’t fix anything

Submission on Family Court review best approach: protesting outside Judges' homes won’t fix anything

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There are better ways to contribute to change in the Family Court system than protesting outside the homes of Judges', says the New Zealand Law Society.

This week it was reported through the media that a group of angry fathers of whom many may have lost custody or visiting rights to their children, took such action outside the Auckland properties of several Family Court Judges.

Media reports said that police officers were called to monitor the situation in case it escalated into trespassing or property damage.

The Chair of the Family Law Section of the New Zealand Law Society, Kirsty Swadling says a better strategy would be for some of these people to make a submission during the Government’s review of the Family Court reforms.

“They (the protesters) were not doing anything that would serve their cause. It won’t impact on any decisions that have been made in the past and it is not likely to impact on any decisions that are made in the future. If they are concerned about the way the Family Court operates, they would be better to make submissions on the forthcoming Family Court review by making suggestions on what sorts of changes they would like to see made,” she says.

Recently the Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue was reported in the media as saying that some groups had unfairly blamed Judges for problems within the Family Court system.

Ms Swadling agrees and says the protests were a sign of desperation.

“They’ve ended up with a decision that they don’t like and they’re expressing their frustration by protesting. There are other avenues such as appealing a decision. If the Judge has behaved in a way that a person feels was inappropriate, then there is also the Judicial Complaints Authority. There are proper avenues for them to channel their concerns,” she says.

Ms Swadling says the Judges and their families should be able to feel safe in their own homes.

“To have your privacy invaded in that way can only be interpreted as a safety concern. Protesting outside Judge’s homes is unacceptable because all they (the Judges) are doing is their job. I don’t see any justification for that kind of behaviour at all,” she says.

Ms Swadling says any suggestion that the Family Court favours mothers over fathers in custody cases is incorrect.

“There is no substance to there being any particular gender bias. There are from time to time fathers who are unhappy with decisions as there are mothers in the same position. The reality is that when matters go to the Family Court, they are generally high conflict situations with difficult decisions to make and effectively there will be winners and losers with regard to the decisions that are made. It depends on the facts of the case and what the Judges look at is what is in the best interests of the children involved,” she says.