Saturday, November 27

Women say their concerns are ignored by the top Family Court judge

Two ladies have taken aim at the senior Family Court judge, saying he ignores concerns about how whānau are treated in court.

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Dame Tariana Turia is still hopeful that her audience with the judges will be helpful.
Photo: Supplied

Ladies Tariana Turia and Naida Glavish were part of a group of five Maori leaders who requested an urgent hearing at the Waitangi Court on the handling of the government of Whānau Ora.

Soon after, they sat down with the Chief Family Court Judge, Jackie Moran, and the Chief District Court Judge, Heemi Taumaunu, to discuss the whānau experiences in court.

They left with the promise of a working relationship, but have now joined a growing chorus that says the Family Court does not meet its own standards.

“It disturbs me greatly that the lives of our children are clearly not of primary importance in this system,” said former Maori Party co-founder Dame Turia.

“That we would ignore the problems that have happened to them when we had the ability to work with someone on the higher end of the spectrum.”

Judge Moran declined to be interviewed, but in a statement said her ability to meet with iwi leaders had been “significantly affected” by the Covid-19 alert level and travel restrictions.

Dame Naida Glavish, who was also at the Wellington hui about 18 months ago, said the lack of follow-up was extremely disappointing but not surprising.

“In that one meeting we had, I was hopeful that we would really develop some relationship, some meaningful commitment, and nothing happened. I’m not surprised, given the history.”

Dame Naida Glavish

Dame Naida Glavish is disappointed by the lack of follow-up to a hui held about 18 months ago over concerns about the Family Court.
Photo: RNZ / Leigh-Marama McLachlan

The Family Court celebrates its 40th anniversary this year; his arrival in 1981 marked New Zealand’s first attempt at a therapeutic, or solution-focused, court.

It has suffered many years of criticism and various revisions, even attracting the attention of the United Nations that recommended a Royal Commission of Inquiry on the treatment of women in the family court system.

Former Human Rights Commissioner Rosslyn Noonan chaired an independent review of changes made in court by the National Party in 2014.

Despite the obvious challenges and complexities in Family Court cases, Noonan said the court was not fulfilling its therapeutic mandate.

“I think it has enormous challenges. I want to emphasize the complexity and difficulties of many of the issues that come before the Family Court as a whole, not just in terms of the Child Care Act.”

“I don’t think there is any evidence now that it is serving a therapeutic role. I think that that element, the expectation and the hope for a variety of reasons seem to have disappeared.”

Chief Judge of the District Court, Heemi Taumaunu.

Judge Heemi Taumaunu.
Photo: RNZ / Dan Cook

Judge Heemi Taumaunu last year announced a new judicial model, Te Ao Mārama, which will eventually incorporate best practices developed in specialized courts in the district court, the most active jurisdiction in the country.

At the time of that announcement, Judge Taumaunu said that the specialized court for the treatment of alcohol and other drugs would move to the family court; Provide addiction treatment options for mothers whose dependency problems have led to, or threatened, the withdrawal of their children.

Rosslyn Noonan, Director of the New Zealand Center for Human Rights Law, Policy and Practice.

Former Human Rights Commissioner Rosslyn Noonan says it feels like the system is stuck in a time warp from the 1980s.
Photo: RNZ / Phil Pennington

Noonan said incorporating aspects of the existing specialized courts was a step forward for Family Court, but that more work needs to be done.

“I don’t think that fundamentally addresses what we consider to be the barriers to justice for so many people, which was the lack of incorporation of any aspect of Maori tea, mediation services, and barriers for people with disabilities or of diverse backgrounds.

“It seems like the whole system, despite some very good people within it, got caught up in a kind of time warp from the 1980s.”

Judge Jackie Moran said that work was underway on the best way to bring Te Ao Mārama to Family Court, and when it was safe to travel again, she hoped to discuss these developments with the iwi leaders.

Dame Turia said that she initially met with the higher judge because she thought he might be of help; a belief he still had.

“I think there is nothing sadder for a family than knowing that the value of their contribution in a situation that has many complexities for them, as well as for those who are helping to support them, are worthless.” ; that nobody cares. That is not a good message, nor is it healing, to give to people who have often had traumatic lives.

“This is not an opportunity for me or anyone else to be disrespectful. We realize the complexity of whānau when problems occur with them. I guess the reason we meet with her and each other is because we think we might be useful and I still think we could be. “

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