Backbone Collective releases first report on the Family Court

Thu 06 Apr 2017

The Backbone Collective has released its first "watchdog report," focused on the Family Court. The report, All Eyes on the Family Court, lists ...

The Backbone Collective has released its first "watchdog report," focused on the Family Court.

The report, All Eyes on the Family Court, lists 160 questions that survivors of violence against women are asking authorities about the operation of the Family Court.

The questions identify problems and the consequences of these for women and children who have experienced violence and abuse and who end up in the Family Court.

The questions have been organised into themes and highlight a range of serious concerns, summarised in the report as follows:

  • "There is little or no independent and transparent monitoring of the Family Court
  • Family Court practices and processes are failing to uphold basic principles of natural justice and due process
  • There is cause for serious concern about the quality of the practice of (some) Family Court judges
  • Some lawyers-for-child are putting children in more danger rather than keeping them safe
  • Women’s voices and women’s complaints are not being used to inform change that would make the Family Court safer
  • There are shortfalls in the legislation
  • The rights of children are not being upheld in the Family Court
  • Parenting arrangements - the rights of abusive fathers appear to trump the safety of children
  • Mothers are being punished for trying to protect their children
  • Women are being re-victimised and abused by the Family Court
  • Violence and abuse is minimised by the Family Court
  • The Family Court is being used as a tool of abuse by the abusive ex-partner/husband
  • Protection orders are being watered down by the Family Court
  • Family Court proceedings are forcing women into debt
  • The Family Court does not recognise the impact of financial abuse on women and their children and respond appropriately"

In a press release, Backbone co-founder Deborah Mackenzie said:

"The ten women who agreed to contribute (and there are many more) gave us questions that shine a light on the dysfunction that is happening in the Family Court – the dangers, the misunderstandings, the misinformed decision-making, and the mirroring of the abuse by those in power. These questions require immediate responses."

The report notes:

"We suspect these questions do not reflect all that’s wrong with the Family Court - other issues are likely to be identified once our members read this report, as more women contact the Backbone after its release and via our upcoming survey on the Family Court."

On the same day, Backbone launched Survey Two: The Family Court. The survey is for women who have experienced violence and/or abuse (whether or not women have reported it to Police, or been to the Family Court). The confidential responses will be used to help Backbone staff write a generalised and anonymous report outlining how the Family Court responds to women when they experience violence and/or abuse, which will be released in May.

The report explains the "watchdog" function of the Collective as follows:

"People who have written about how to tackle complex social issues have said that often information is not available that helps us know what to do in order to fix the problem and so a continuous improvement framework is essential – that is, the system needs to listen to the people who use it (or who could use it) and make changes accordingly in order for it to operate efficiently and safely. Our mission is to help promote continuous improvement of the system that responds to women when they experience violence and abuse by giving women a safe and anonymous way to share their experiences and insights."

Women who have experienced violence and abuse can register as members on the Backbone Collective website. Frontline workers, family and friends and general supporters can also register at the same link.

Background information

The Backbone Collective launched in March 2017. Since then its membership has grown to 400 women. See the previous NZFVC news story for background information:

New collective for survivors of violence against women launched: The Backbone Collective (March 2017).

Related research and resoures

Aotearoa NZ

Research on women’s experiences of the Family Court by Vivienne Elizabeth, Nicola Gavey and Julia Tolmie

Pitama,  D.,  Ririnui,  G.,  &  Mikaere,  A.  (2002). Guardianship, Custody and Access: Māori Perspectives and Experiences. Wellington: Ministry  of Justice and Department for Courts.


Family Law and Family Violence: Research to Practice
Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse (2012)


Bar Association calls for calm, Press Release: NZ Bar Association, Scoop, 19.05.2017

Family Court 'broken and dangerous' - lobby group, Radio NZ, 18.05.2017

Calls for a Royal Commission into the Family Court, Radio NZ, 18.05.2017

Victim advocates: Authorities 'not open' to Family Court issues, NZ Herald, 17.05.2017

Family Court - Backbone's response to Judge Ryan's statement, Press Release: The Backbone Collective, Scoop, 20.04.2017

New Zealand Law Society backs Principal Family Court Judge statement, Press release: NZ Law Society, 20.04.2017

Judge dismisses Family Court criticisms, Radio NZ, 20.04.2017

Family court strikes back at the Backbone Collective, Stuff, 20.04.2017

Debate about the Family Court, Press Release: Office of the Principal Family Court Judge, Scoop, 19.04.2017

Family Court head hits back at women's advocacy group's report criticising system, NZ Herald, 19.4.2017

Family violence collective 'inundated' with women's stories of abuse, NZ Herald, 11.04.2017

Women demand answers for Family Court failings, Stuff, 07.04.2017

Mothers take on the Family Court with new watchdog report, The Spinoff, 07.04.2017

Deborah McKenzie talks to Tessa Barnett on bFM's The Wire, 07.04.2017

Image: Pixabay