Response to Commissioner for Children report
25 June 2000 Media Statement
Response to recommendations made by the Commissioner for Children in the report on the death of Riri-o-te-Rangi (James) Whakaruru.
The Department for Courts acknowledges the tragedy of James’ death and is actively working with other statutory agencies to close the gaps identified in the report and strengthen the networks between agencies to lessen the risk of a similar tragedy happening again.
In his report, the Commissioner for Children, Hon Roger McClay, makes five specific recommendations in relation to the Department for Courts.
First, that the department establish procedures which ensure that Judges’ sentencing reports are reconciled with supervision orders prior to the passing of any information to the Department of Corrections.
The Department for Courts has acknowledged that there was an administrative error in that the supervision order did not record the conditions associated with the supervision order. The Department has issued instructions to court staff on the procedures to be put in place to ensure the accuracy of information contained on orders.
Second, that the department establish procedures with the Department of Corrections, which ensure that the Community Probation Service is informed when Protection Orders are taken out against current offenders.
The Domestic Violence Rules 1996 allow for the exchange of information between the Family Court and the District Court criminal jurisdiction. The Community Probation Service can access this information through the District Court files, but this is a complex process in practice. The process could be made more effective by amending the Domestic Violence Act to provide for automatic notification of Protection Orders to the Community Probation Service in cases which involve representative action on behalf of a child where there are or have been criminal proceedings in relation to that child. The Department for Courts would support such an amendment.
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Third, that the department conduct a review of the Guardianship Act which reports on the amendments required for the Family Court to have the legal powers to (1) share information with the Department of Child Youth and Family Services when cases are heard under the Guardianship Act or where there are parallel proceedings under the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act; (2) direct a Family Group Conference; (3) ensure that a child’s right to protection is paramount when adult privacy issues arise during proceedings; and (4) direct that the Department of Child Youth and Family Services fund legal representation for applications of custody and guardianship resulting form a care and protection notification to the Department of Child Youth and Family Services.
The Government has indicated an intention to review the Guardianship Act. The Department for Courts expects these matters to be considered by the Ministry of Justice in the context of that review.
In relation to the exchange of information, the Department for Courts and the Department of Child Youth and Family Services have agreed on a protocol to ensure there is a effective and efficient child protection network for vulnerable and at risk children, young people and families. The protocol specifies four referral tracks to the Department of Child Youth and Family Services: (1) reporting of ill treatment or neglect under s15 of the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act; (2) referrals to a care and protection co-ordinator under s19 (1)(b) of the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act; (3) social work reports under s29 of the Guardianship Act; and (4) requests for information.
Track four details the processes for the lawful provision of information between the Courts and the Department of Child Youth and Family Services which allows for information sharing where there are concurrent court proceedings and Child Youth and Family involvement with children and young persons.
Staff training has been completed and the protocol will be implemented across the country from 1 July 2000.
Fourth, that the department conduct further research on the role of Counsel for Child in cases of child protection heard under the Guardianship Act and the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act.
Comprehensive research on the role of the Counsel for Child was undertaken in 1998 and published in May 1998. The Department for Courts is not proposing to undertake further research at this time. The Department expects that concerns about the interface between the Guardianship Act and the Children, Young Persons and their Families Act will be addressed in the protocol.
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Fifth, that the department conduct research on the extent to which Counsel working in the Family Court effectively and sensitively represent clients from different cultural and socio-economic groups.
The Department for Courts will undertake to work with the Judiciary and the New Zealand Law Society’s Family Law Section to progress this recommendation.