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Celebrating Families Newsletter

Celebrating Families Newsletter

Judith Collins
24 November 2003

National Party Family Spokesperson

The Family Court has come under much public scrutiny in the last two weeks, and rightly so. It is my belief and that of so many people who have taken the time to contact me, that the closed status of the Family Court and a lack of accountability have resulted in gross injustices happening to families.

Because the law prevents me from publishing information about any particular case in the Family Court, I cannot write about the people involved. My colleague, Nick Smith did take on the cause of a constituent family and he is now facing contempt of court charges. If found guilty, Nick is likely to lose his seat in Parliament. So you can see why MPs are unable to say what many of us know and want to say.

Let me tell you that as a lawyer of more than 20 years experience, I have little faith in the family court system. It is a sledgehammer that destroys, not restores, families and it will continue to do so while it is shrouded in secrecy. I was in general practice for more than 15 years. In that time, I dealt with a large number of matrimonial situations and I tried my best to keep them out of court. Once a family goes down the court track, then they are finished. They are finished as a family, they are finished financially, they will dedicate years of their lives to pursuit of justice and I am sorry to write that I have not heard from people who were happy with the family court or the process. A family breakdown is a traumatic time. It is a time filled with personal tragedy, with a sense of failure. It is often accompanied by both guilt and anger at betrayal and very seldom is it "civilized". That's because people are hurting and none more so than children and those parents who feel that they are no longer wanted as part of the family.

Right now, the Justice and Electoral Select Committee of Parliament is hearing submissions on the Care of Children Bill. Some of those submissions have been heart rending. Some of them have brought me to tears. Because of the law, I am not able to tell you very much more about them. What I will tell you is that I have heard from a father regarding an instance of threats to him if he gave evidence to the committee. The threats were from within the family court system and were absolutely unlawful. This father is terrified by the threats, not so much because of the thought of prosecution but because he fears losing access to his baby daughter who is currently living with her mother. The law currently allows a drug addicted mother to take an ex-parte application for custody of a child. In such an ex-parte application the father does not get advised or have any right to be heard before custody can be given to such an unsuitable parent.

What that can mean is that the child can be uplifted by the mother and then, of course, she would be entitled to a larger welfare benefit.

The Care of Children Bill goes some way towards opening access to the Family Court, but by no means far enough. I am hoping that my call for an open family court (with children's identity protected) will be able to get cross- party support. This issue is too important to be left to party politics.

Many people have contacted me with their concerns regarding this case and the Family Court, and are welcome to email or post any contributions.


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