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Law Society Running Scared

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Media Release – 25 January 2001 - For immediate release

Law Society Running Scared

“The Law Society is running scared, as is clearly evident by its inconsistency on the subject of opening the Family Court to public scrutiny” Darryl Ward, spokesperson for Families Apart Require Equality (FARE), said today.

“Whilst the Law Society continues to remain in public denial of the daily injustices meted out by the Family Court, it is now trying to bluff the public into believing that relaxation of current secrecy will reveal that all is well. It is clear that all is far from well, and we call the Law Society’s bluff and challenge it to prove otherwise”.

“The Law Society is also scaremongering by making all sorts of intemperate claims that peoples’ privacy will be put on public show. The reality is that there would be a variety of mechanisms available, such as name suppression, which will protect privacy where appropriate”.

“It is obvious that the Law Society is mainly interested in the huge profits that its members and so-called professionals within the highly lucrative Family Court system make from the suffering of children and families”.

“Opening up the Court to public scrutiny will reveal once and for all how New Zealand’s family law system is amongst the worst in the world, and will greatly swell the public’s demands for a better system. A better system, such as was promoted by Dr Muriel Newman’s Shared Parenting Bill, will be better for children, better for families, and indeed better for everyone except lawyers and others who profit from the adversarial nature of the current regime.”

“The Family Law Section of the New Zealand Law Society claims that it is unable to respond to criticism of the Family Court because of secrecy requirements. There are numerous areas in which it could respond, were it to choose to do so.”

“The Court has been accused of, over many years, preventing caring, responsible fathers from continuing in an effective parenting role with their children. The Family Court’s preference for sole custody is on public record, as shown by the following two quotes from the New Zealand Family Law Reports:

‘any arrangement by which a child spends substantial time with each parent has the potential for harm to the child arising from inconsistent activities, influences and living patterns...I think that the difficulties are likely to be less when primary responsibility for a child rests with one parent rather than both." B v VE [NZFLR, 1988, pp.65-74], p.70’.

‘the reality is that [G] has the appellant as a father who is very much part of his life. It is only in the day-to-day choices and events of living that - as with every separated parent - one parent alone is of necessity involved." Haslett v Thorndon [NZFLR, 2000, 200], p.207”.

“How does the Law Society reconcile these with the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which states that "States Parties shall use their best efforts to ensure recognition of the principle that both parents have common responsibilities for the upbringing and development of the child"? How does it reconcile these with Article 16(1) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which provides that men and women of full age have the right to marry and found a family and are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution; or Article 16(3), which provides that the family is the natural and fundamental unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state?”

“The Law Society claims that Family Court professionals work within a statutory framework. The Society itself commissioned the report by Cotter and Roper, ‘Report on a project on education and training in legal ethics and professional responsibility for the Council of Legal Education and the New Zealand Law Society’. That report found that, of the rules of conduct, there was "a conscious risk-taking to get around them ... and lack of rigour in enforcing them". The report stated that, with many lawyers seeing law more as a business than a profession, "far too often there is an attitude that you get away with as much as you can". The report is now about five years old, yet nothing has been visibly done to make the Law Society's complaints procedure effective.”

“Perhaps it is time that lawyers were subject to the same scrutiny recently observed of health professionals. Can the Law Society explain what specific training is given to lawyers in the Family Court to enable them to understand issues such as child development, stages of parenting, family structures, parental alienation? On the latter point, published papers by psychologists describe the harm that can be done by professionals reinforcing the alienation perpetrated by a parent. What training do lawyers have to ensure that they do not cause such harm? The Family Law Section of the Law Society does not have to breach any confidentiality to respond to these points. We await its response with interest.”

“Public confidence in the Family Court and the practitioners of family law is at an all time low. It is time for the Law Society to put the interests of children and families ahead of the ill gotten gains of its members”, concluded Ward.

Enquiries to Darryl Ward 025 230 1667

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