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Family Court not biased, say lawyers

MEDIA RELEASE

FROM THE FAMILY LAW SECTION OF THE NEW ZEALAND LAW SOCIETY

For immediate use 19 July 2001

Family Court not biased, say lawyers

Despite the very vocal claims of some disgruntled men, the Family Court is not biased, say family law specialists who regularly practise in the court.

Wellington lawyer Simon Maude, speaking as Deputy Chair of the Family Law Section of the New Zealand Law Society, which represents over 700 family lawyers around New Zealand, says:

“We represent men and children as well as women so we have no interest in favouring one group over another, and our experience is that there is no gender bias in the court. If there was, we would be speaking out about it as it would be disadvantaging our clients.

“The only bias, if it can be called that, is the one set in legislation which requires the court to make the interests of the child paramount and, in our experience, that is what Family Court Judges do.

“We are very disturbed by the current campaign to disparage the whole Family Court system. The hard evidence indicates that the Family Court is working for the vast majority of people who use it.

“The claim that the Family Court is adversarial in nature and therefore causing parents to fight simply doesn’t stand up. It ignores the fact that the Family Court is not just about an actual court hearing. Its processes include counselling and mediation with the assistance of judges, and over 90% of all cases are solved through these processes.

“Very few cases – perhaps only about 3% - actually go to a court hearing and those cases are the ones where the parents can’t agree – that is why they ask the court to sort it out, and it is quite wrong to blame the court for that already-existing conflict.

“As so few cases actually go to a court hearing, people may not realise that where there is a conflict that can’t be resolved, the children have their own lawyer. It is not a case of just the two parents fighting it out, and the judge deciding for one or the other. The judge has to decide on the basis of what is best for the children and if that was not being done, as lawyers for those children we would not be supporting the system.

“The Family Court is subject to the same judicial standards as any other court. Its judges have to provide reasoned written decisions which may be published and which can be appealed to the High Court – tellingly, very few are.

“Of course there will always be some litigants who feel unfairly treated but comments arising out of individual grievances don’t reflect the vast majority of cases.

“And they don’t reflect the experience of lawyers representing men, women and children in the court every day.”

ENDS

For further comment, please contact:

Simon Maude tel (04) 499 6293 (work)

Mary O’Dwyer tel (03) 379 2605 (work) )

Gray Cameron tel (09) 309 3994


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