The NZBA fully supports the comments made by Principal Family Court Judge Ryan in response to allegations against the Family Court and its judges made by The Backbone Collective.
He correctly points out that the Collective has relied on anecdotal examples given by a comparatively small number of disaffected litigants. In this regard, it must be remembered that whenever a Court makes a decision, there is likely to be at least one dissatisfied party. However, that does not mean that the Court has failed in its duty to apply the law, nor that it has placed women or children at risk.
The safety and welfare of children are the Family Court’s paramount consideration in any case concerning children, particularly where domestic violence is alleged. This is deeply enshrined not only in law, but also in practice.
It is incorrect that the Family Court is not accountable. If the Court failed in its duty to protect children in any particular case, then that decision would and should be subject to appeal. Further, any judge who does not behave appropriately is subject to independent review.
It is also incorrect to claim that the Family Court lacks transparency. The media is entitled to attend Family Court hearings, and Family Court decisions are commonly reported and are accessible by the public.
There is no doubt that domestic violence is a major problem in our society, which must be addressed urgently. However, to say that the Family Court supports, contributes to or perpetuates such violence is entirely inaccurate.
The aim of the Collective to shine a light on domestic violence is to be commended. However, It would be more helpful for the Collective to present properly collated evidence to Parliament’s Justice and Electoral Committee on the Family and Whanau Legislation Bill, rather than to unjustifiably lay blame at the door of the Family Court.