Domestic Violence Hui Challenges Family Judges
Media Statement - for immediate release 26 April 2006
Domestic Violence Hui Challenges Family Court Judges
A national women's hui focussing on domestic violence held at the weekend, has called on family court judges and lawyers to stick to the letter and the spirit of the Domestic Violence Act.
Delegates at the hui heard numerous examples of how women have been failed by the legal system in recent years.
The 3 day hui in Hamilton was organised by the National Network of Stopping Violence Services and was attended by up to 80 women from around the country. Speakers included family court lawyers working with battered women and an American domestic violence expert.
Spokesperson Lila Jones, manager of the Hamilton Abuse Intervention Project, said the NZ world class Domestic Violence Act is not being administered in the way that was intended.
"Within the Court system there has been a deliberate undermining of the intention of the Act leaving women and children vulnerable as a result."
The intention of the DVA 1995 was to make protection for victims of domestic violence (mostly women) speedy and effective. Domestic violence in all its forms (physical, sexual, or psychological) was statutorily defined as unacceptable behaviour. Protection orders were to be available without notice in order to offer speedy protection from violent partners.
The DVA 1995 expressly lowered the threshold of the level of violence considered severe enough for a protection order without notice to be granted.
Psychological abuse was included as grounds for protection along with physical and sexual abuse.
However delegates and speakers at the hui named the following as issues of grave concern to people working with domestic violence victims:
- More and more protection orders being put on notice which means that women needing immediate protection are often being left without court order protection for several weeks to sometimes up to two months
- Despite the high correlations between spousal abuse and child abuse, pressure from the Courts on women to agree to unsafe access arrangements for children, this even when the other parent has used physical and/or sexual violence against his partner or his children
- Courts prioritising the rights of fathers to see their children over the rights of children and their caregivers to be safe from further violence during contact
- Women being required to attend couples counselling, relationship counselling and mediation even prior to their safety issues being addressed by the Court
- Evidence of psychological abuse being ignored or minimised
- Family Violence Courts inappropriately dealing with criminal cases arising out of domestic violence, including using unproven typologies of batterers and relationship counselling rather than providing effective safety for child and women victims of that violence.
Hui delegates called on Judges to carry out the intent of the Domestic Violence Act, to safeguard the physical, sexual and psychological well-being of victims of domestic violence.
"We want to see the Courts view the significance and impact of domestic violence from the perspective of its victims as is mandatory under the Act. We want Family and Criminal Courts to prioritise the safety of adult victims and children, again as is required by the Act, and not substitute an already discredited view that domestic violence is about relationship dysfunction.
"We want to see the courts backing up police actions, by taking seriously any breaches of protection orders in every instance.
"New Zealand has an epidemic of domestic violence. This was acknowledged by the Prime Minister at the ACCAN conference in Wellington in February and shows up in our disgraceful statistics for domestic murders.
"This is a world class law and it is not being implemented by many Judges in the family court in the way that was intended."
Ms Jones said family violence experts working with victims of domestic violence will be seeking to have their concerns addressed through every avenue open to them during the coming months.
"We are talking about using the law to save lives. Who can argue with that?"