21 April 2009
Georgina te HeuHeu
Minister of Courts
GENDER BIAS AND ANTI-MALE DISCRIMINATION IN THE FAMILY COURT.
I write to you as a semi-retied Registered Psychologist who has taken an interest in the functioning of the Family Court for over thirty years. Based on my own unfortunate experiences with the system I became a foundation member of the Families Need Fathers society in the late 1970s and just prior to the establishment of the new Family Court in 1980, also helped to form the Wellington based Equal Parents Rights Society.
I can say without exaggeration that, circa 2009, little has changed to bring about gender equality and equal treatment in primary care and contact issues ( custody and access) and where the rights of the father to generous or equal shared parenting arrangements are respected and fostered.
In October 2003 together with others from the man and father’s rights movement of the time we called for the second Principal Family court Judge, Judge Mahoney to step down. The grounds for making this request are outlined in the enclosed letter to Helen Clark of 15 October 2003.
Coincidently or not, Judge Mahoney did retire and the current third Principal Family Court Judge, Judge Boshier was appointed in his place with a term of office limited to eight years only with the brief that he was to accelerate and promote innovation and change in the Family Court. He is now halfway through his term of office and while he has introduced incremental but piecemeal reforms, those have not been fast enough or far enough in my opinion to change the prevailing ‘culture’ of the Family Court and to treat more equally, fathers as parents with the right of generous contact or equal contact time with their children post separation.
You may or may not know that about 500 men commit suicide each year with 300 suicides linked to post –separation trauma. A subset of this total has contested custody in the Family Court and we understand through the current Families Commissioner, Dr Jan Pryor, that Judge Boshier is extremely concerned about those statistics. For over three years the men’s rights groups have made representations to the Families Commission and we have received sympathetic hearings mostly from Dr Prasad. I also include two bound documents presented to the Commission in 2007 which I hope will serve to persuade you that the Family court is not gender neutral as your predecessor, Rick Barker has so firmly asserted.
The main purpose of this letter is to challenge his statement and yours that you remain to be convinced that the Family Court is gender bias.
May we draw your particular attention to the six case –histories (including Mr Easton’s) and to the readings “Families Need Fathers” which contain two Editorials in the New Zealand Law Journal of March 2004 and August 2006.This is strident criticism indeed coming as it does from within the legal profession itself. We asked the Families Commission to support our call for a Royal commission of Inquiry into the Family Court, which Dr Prasad declined to do in view of the number of existing reports( at least six) on the Family Court, particularly the Law Commission’s report of March 2003.Dr Prasad quite rightly observed that the path to reform was contained in this report and all that needed to be done was for the Court to actually implement its main recommendations!
He also suggested that we take our case to the Human Rights Commission, but to little avail so far.
The recently legislated Family matters bill now incorporated into the original 1980 Family Courts legislation changes little in my view and certainly not be prevailing and well –entrenched anti-male, anti father bias. This is not exclusively the situation because two of our cases are of women also harshly treated by the Courts. So we are looking not only at gender bias but downright incompetence and judicial misfeasance as well.
Our working party is now seriously writing in similar vein to John Key calling for Judge Boshier to step down unless he, in his last four years of office, greatly accelerates the pace of reform. While he meets periodically with lobby groups advancing women’s rights, he has, over more recent years, declined to meet with the men’s and father’s rights groups.
Before we ask to meet the Prime Minister, we would like to request a meeting to discuss these issues with you at a time to your convenience.
On behalf of the Fathers Coalition Working Party
Chester Borrows, MP
Rick Barker, MP
Dr Rajen Prasad, MP
Grant Robertson, MP
Rodney Hide, MP
Paula Bennett, MP
Ros Noonan, Chief Human Rights Commissioner
Jan Pryor, Chief Executive Officer, Families Commission.