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Letters to the Editor

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Forced adoption

I would like to add a personal perspective to the feature article on adoption law in LawTalk 865 (22 May 2015).

Consent given under duress is not consent. Consent given when no other option or support is offered is not consent. Consent given with only token legal support or advice given is not consent (at the time of signing with one hand on the Bible promising not to try and find one’s own child). Consent given when the mother was still incarcerated is not consent (even if I had known that there was a 10-day period when I could have refused to allow anyone to take my child, who would I have gone to?).

Signing a paper when all the power is on one side, when one is in emotional turmoil, when one has been escorted to the legal office by the person who has facilitated the removal of one’s child, is not consent.

It is a legal axiom that consent not freely given is not consent at all, and the history of the adoption corruption in New Zealand relied upon invalid consents, obtained by political pressure, manipulation, threats, illegal practices, emotional blackmail and standover tactics.

The state and its officials colluded with institutions and intending adopters in maintaining these abuses of power. These practices were systematic, not sporadic, events.

To say that the responsibility for that system lies with families is absurd, amounting to a monstrous distortion, which absolves the enablers, who relied on secrecy and political protection to conceal their actions from any public scrutiny. They supposed that the status quo would last forever, and the passage of the Adult Adoption Information Act 1985 was a very severe shock to them and their abuses of power.

It is extremely revealing that the adoption practices of the state’s social workers changed remarkably from that time, although there was no legislative requirement for this to occur when and how it did (from Apology is Not Enough by Anna Coffey-Noall and Maggie Wilkinson).

I made phone calls to that person (Matron of the home) continually in the weeks after, pleading to have my child back, only to receive a wall of repudiation. In retrospect I realise that I had given birth to the commodity, which had been wanted by someone else, I had done my duty of supply. I was not needed any more.

My rights as a New Zealand citizen were ignored by the State when the State actively supported the church home’s fevered obsession in removing the baby from its mother, to supply the “entitled” market.

St Mary's Anglican Home for Unwed Mothers was a baby farm which carried out its practices with the full support of church and State.

After which, we (the mothers), after months of servitude, were turfed out and told to “get on with it” – in my case bleeding physically and mentally. Fifty years later, I am given platitudes that “it is no longer like that?”

Below is an excerpt from a thesis by Gillian Palmer, Birth mothers: adoption in New Zealand and the social control of women, 1881-1985, 1991, University of Canterbury Department of History.

“This thesis profiles the lives of women in New Zealand, comparing these generalised experiences to emerging adoption law from a feminist perspective. Although this thesis covers adoption’s legislative history from its inception, it concentrates on the era of closed adoptions, from 1955-1985. This period encompasses a period in adoption history in which women were forced to surrender their children and then silenced and forgotten. This thesis draws on secondary sources and interviews with birth mothers in Christchurch from as long ago as 1940 and from as recently as 1979. Women who gave up their children for adoption were given a ‘choice’ to adoption or to keep their child. However, the issue in not necessarily one of the birth mother’s ‘choice’, rather it is the conditions under which choices are made. Birth mothers were rendered powerless and invisible by the adoption process. The law and practice of adoption in New Zealand is examined as a form of social control over birth mothers, the women who gave up their children for adoption. This form of social control is, it is argued, a result of the patriarchal power relations. It is argued that adoption has formed part of population ideology and control, supporting the nuclear family and maintaining the patriarchal status quo.”

I also consider that my treatment and that of many other young women was a breach of the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights of which New Zealand is a sovereign state.

Julia Gillard’s National Apology for Forced Adoptions to Australian mothers does acutely reflect and speak to the same suffering of people trapped in New Zealand’s murky adoption past. See:

It’s time for NZ to stop equivocating and demonstrate the same courage.

Maggie Wilkinson

Professional courtesy

An incident occurred to me the other day that made me pause and reflect upon the fine, but distinct, line between professional courtesy and professional rudeness.

Late one recent Friday afternoon, I received in my inbox an email request from another law firm to witness documents in their conveyancing matter. Attached to the email was a contract, a certified copy of photographic ID, a title search, A+I and a KiwiSaver withdrawal form.

I had no previous contact nor was I familiar with this firm. I did not know the clients. I read the email further.

One of the clients whom I was to establish identity, has, for one reason or other, no government-issued photographic identification. The request was to sign as witness, provide a solicitor’s certificate in relation to the KiwiSaver withdrawal and assist the clients to sign loan documents that they will bring with them.

A few issues immediately spring to mind, but let’s plough on and look at the attachments. The contract, it turns out, did not relate to the transaction. The copy ID – certified over two years ago. No statutory declaration had been prepared for the absence of identification. The title search appeared fine (and later confirmed as the property being purchased).

The A+I appeared to be fine and related to the property based on the title search, but could not confirm as the correct contract was not attached.

The KiwiSaver withdrawal form to be signed as a statutory declaration was incomplete, missing the KiwiSaver member number and IRD number.

The associated solicitors’ certificate, generally to be signed when the agreement is unconditional, requires a solicitor to give an undertaking to disperse the funds for the purchase at settlement or return them to the KiwiSaver scheme.

I had no connection with the matter and would not be participating at settlement, yet I was being asked to be responsible on an undertaking for thousands, if not tens of thousands, of KiwiSaver funds personally.

There was no indication given that I would be acting as the law firm’s agent in the matter.

An appointment had been made to see the clients at 9am on Monday (the other side of the weekend).

The practice of law requires generous reciprocity among legal practitioners to get matters done for members of the public. I too have had to rely on practitioners to witness documents where clients do not reside locally.

However, the manner in which I was asked by another law firm, as described above, dropped the professional courtesy and crossed the line into professional rudeness.

I would like to hear from members of the profession whether it be about my example or on the standards and courtesy of the legal profession generally. Please contact me by email at

Tristram Lock

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