Report biased, says judge
By PHIL HAMILTON - The Press | Wednesday, 29 August 2007
The Principal Family Court Judge refused to let his judges be interviewed for a Government-commissioned report on protection orders because he believed its authors were biased.
The Waikato University report, commissioned by the Ministry of Women's Affairs, lambasted the judiciary for failing victims of domestic violence and tacitly colluding with "batterers' interests".
Principal Family Court Judge Peter Boshier said he knew the views and track record of the lead authors, Ruth Busch and Neville Robertson, so declined to let his judges participate.
"I had no doubt at all when the research was embarked on that it would not be research," he said.
"I knew it would be a personal restatement of the authors' positions.
"I feared we would end up with what we got – the personal recollections far outweigh the research.
"I did not see why we should be part of a study and project that would not have integrity and I've been proved correct."
However, Robertson, a senior psychology lecturer, defended their work and accused Boshier of being precious.
"The trouble is judges think they're beyond criticism," he said.
"But we give them a lot of power and responsibility which they need to use to protect the vulnerable.
"If they don't then they need to be held to account."
Boshier said Busch, an associate law professor, showed her bias with facetious remarks about judges considering without-notice protection orders in their tea breaks.
"Another take on that is that we guarantee we will do protection orders every day even when we're dealing with other cases.
"How we do that is by using our tea breaks so when researchers are having their tea breaks, judges are using theirs to work ... Family Court judges are so committed we're prepared to use our own time."
Boshier said the facts in the study did not bear out the conclusions the authors drew.
The report was particularly critical of a failure to issue more without-notice protection orders.
Last year, the Family Court granted 78.4 per cent of the 3848 applications for without-notice protection orders.
In the Waikato University study, 32 of the 43 women interviewed for case studies applied for without-notice orders, with 28 granted.
"That's even a higher proportion than the national statistics from the Ministry of Justice so where is the balance in them suggesting we get it so wrong," he said.
"I'm cross and annoyed that a publicly funded report is so sub-standard."
Robertson said the judge's figures were correct but their argument was most orders should be granted and those that were not should have reasons listed so the applicants could appeal.
"Battered women are expected to accept what a judge rules without reasons. No other group in society would accept that," Robertson said.
Boshier said the court had to be seen to be fair and could not bow to pressure groups on either side of the debate.
"The public have to have confidence the Family Court is a court which makes just decisions.
"We can't be harangued and harassed by pressure groups on either side."
Boshier said while he found the bias and personal comments in the report distasteful, many of the 46 recommendations had merit and the Ministry of Justice was acting on them.
"We can do better, there's no question of that but to say we're getting it wrong and never getting it right is frustrating and mischievous."