Courts failing domestic violence victimsLast updated 13:03 21/08/2008
Relevant offersFamily Courts need better security, better information from criminal courts and legal aid for applicants if they are to work effectively, says the court's top judge.
Principal Family Court judge Peter Boshier addressed the Continuum of Family Violence Conference in Napier today on how the justice system treated victims of domestic violence.
Judge Boshier said the ramifications of family violence permeated through New Zealand society and the "horrifying" statistics were only just scraping the surface.
In 2006 police recorded 71,000 family violence related incidents. One in four women and just under one in five men would be the victim of domestic violence at some stage in their lifetime.
Judge Boshier said courts had an important role in responding to violence incidents. "But there is much that must be done both in and beyond the judicial system," he said.
"The security in our courts seems woefully inadequate," he said, when compared with overseas courts, and even airports and Parliament.
The threat of intimidation in courts was high and in one year 4231 items were taken off people entering New Zealand courts.
Judge Boshier cited items collected from the Manukau court house, which included pistols, knives, razors and scissors.
"A real worry is the knowledge that some victims will not come to the Criminal Courts to give evidence because of fear and equally they look askance at the Family Court because of the uneven standard of security. We can and must do better."
He said victims must have access to justice that recognised their state of trauma and disempowerment, and they must have access to better information and safety than just the mere granting of a protection order.
Judge Boshier said he would like to see all applicants properly legally represented and seen by trained Family Court staff to explain to them what they were entitled to.
The state had a responsibility to provide free legal representation if the applicant could not afford it. Duty solicitors were available for offenders in criminal courts.
Victims might not feel empowered and may unwittingly be put at risk without the "wraparound support services" being available, he said.
Family Violence Courts in some centres were a bold step in reforming the criminal justice system, but because of cumbersome nature of the criminal system, struggled to provide effective access to justice.
Judge Boshier said he wanted to see greater use of electronic confirmation of court orders.
There would be better safety for victims if the Family Court was diligent in reporting perpetrators who did not attend prescribed programmes, and if police actioned every referral and prosecuted where needed.
The "clunky" paper-based exchange of information between the Family Court and District Criminal courts could be done better with computers to reduce the errors, he said
Judge Boshier also said the Family Court would be better served if it had access to a defendant's complete criminal history, especially when deciding whether to continue a protection order or not.