Some families affected by violence these holidays will be using state-of-the-art technology to access justice, and the law firm behind it is eager to put it to the test.
Refuges in Greymouth, Westport, Christchurch, Kaikoura, Blenheim, Nelson and Masterton have access to immediate legal assistance through an initiative that has been three years in the making, and is unique in New Zealand.
The concept, which is a partnership between Women’s Refuge and Ebborn Law, enables women being assisted by a refuge to seek court orders for protection of themselves and their children over a secure audio-visual link. The system is staffed by expert family lawyers and means refuge workers save precious time when seeking a family legal aid lawyer for their client.
According to Women’s Refuge, over 6000 women and children across the country needed assistance with family violence matters last holiday season. There is no indication that number will fall this year.
“The holiday season always brings added pressure to family dynamics and in some cases this can bubble over into physical or other types of violence,” says Ebborn Law Principal Solicitor Erin Ebborn. “Through providing a safe and convenient way to access a lawyer over this time, we hope to make the jobs of refuge staff a little bit easier.”
The system Ebborn Law has developed uses secure peer-to-peer video conferencing technology over a virtual private network to ensure absolute privacy and data protection. The refuge facilities include a digital printer/scanner so legal documents can be printed directly to the refuge from Ebborn Law’s Christchurch base. This allows women affected by family violence to stay in a safe and comforting environment when dealing with a lawyer – sometimes a process that can be daunting.
“Eight of us will be on duty between Christmas and New Year and we expect to be busy. The refuge staff, too, will be working very hard over that time”, says Erin Ebborn, “But also consider the staff at the Family Court, the duty Judges, the Police, social workers and myriad others who give up their holidays to be the sheroes and heroes for families affected by violence. It’s a big deal and it would be a wonderful Christmas present if people across New Zealand took some time to appreciate the hard work that goes on behind the scenes.”
Women’s Refuge have urged families and whanau to look out for their friends, family and neighbours, and to call the Police immediately if they suspect someone is in danger. There is a crisis number (0800 733 843) available anyone can call if they have any concerns for family members and would like advice on how to help them.