UN Committee makes further recommendations related to family court


Thu 18 Mar 2021

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (the Committee) has published their assessment of the government's follow-up interim CEDAW report.

The UN Committee recognised that the New Zealand government has made progress in addressing some of the recommendations from the 2018 CEDAW concluding observations report. However, the UN Committee's letter assessing the government's follow-up interim report found that the recommendation to establish a royal commission of inquiry into the family court "has not been implemented". The Committee also recommended further actions to address the safety and justice needs of women and children in the family court, particularly those who are victims of domestic violence.

The Committee's Follow-up Assessment Letter examined the New Zealand government's interim report on implementing four recommendations from the Concluding Observations on New Zealand's 8th CEDAW (Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women) report. This included the recommendation to establish a royal commission of inquiry into the family court: 

"establish a royal commission of inquiry with an independent mandate to engage in wide-ranging evaluation of the drawbacks for women, the obstruction of justice for women and the hindrances to their safety inherent in the family court system and to recommend the legislative and structural changes necessary to make the family courts safe and just for women and children, in particular in situations of domestic violence” (CEDAW/C/NZL/CO/8, paragraph 48).

In response to the government's interim report on this recommendation, the Committee "...considers that the recommendation has not been implemented." The Committee noted:

"However, the Committee regrets that the State party decided to appoint a Panel rather than to establish a royal commission of inquiry to adequately address the root causes of the systemic lack of trust and insensitivity towards women who are victims of domestic violence. Furthermore, the Committee is concerned that the issue of safety for women who come to family court for domestic violence was not included. The Committee considers that the State party did not take sufficient steps to implement the recommendation.

The Committee notes that the information provided by the State party is incomplete and fails to respond fully to the recommendation. It thus considers that the quality of the information provided is unsatisfactory."

The Committee made an additional recommendation asking the government to provide information in the next periodic report on actions taken to:

"1. Take appropriate action to address the root causes of the drawbacks for women, the obstruction of justice for women and the hindrances to their safety inherent in the family court system.

2. Operate the legislative and structural changes necessary to make the family courts safe and just for women and children, in particular in situations of domestic violence."

The next periodic report is due in July 2022. 

Commenting in a media article about the report, Women’s Refuge Principal Policy Advisor Dr Natalie Thorburn said that violence in Family Court is obscured or invisible “That's not because the court doesn't want to do right by people, but because they don't necessarily know how to.” She went on to say “Family violence is a specialist issue; it needs a specialist response.” See the media below for further commentary from advocates.

Update: Media outlet Stuff reported that Justice Minister Kris Faafoi said the government will not consider a Royal Commission and that progressing the recommendations from the Independent Panel examining the 2014 family justice reforms would address concerns from the UN Committee's recommendation.

Background

The New Zealand government is required to report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women every four years on New Zealand's progress implementing the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The last reporting cycle was completed in 2018. 

At the end of the 2018 process, the UN Committee published the Concluding Observations on New Zealand's 8th CEDAW report. The report included a request for the NZ government to provide an interim report, within two years, addressing the steps taken to implement several of the recommendations from the Concluding Observations report (CEDAW/C/NZL/CO/8, see paragraph 55), instead of waiting the usual four years. 

The Government published follow up information to CEDAW responding to this request in August 2020. Non-government organisations also submitted interim reports, known as shadow or alternate reports. See our previous news stories for further information.

Related media

He had a QC, she couldn't afford a lawyer. Is that justice?, Stuff, 22.03.2021

They can't win: How an old idea about women puts them in danger, Stuff, 20.03.2021

Research Urgently Needed For Law Changes To Enable Children’s Safe Participation In Family Court Disputes, Press Release: New Zealand Law Society, Scoop, 18.03.2021

Safety measure requiring judges to hear family violence bail applications quashed as "unlawful", Stuff, 18.03.2021

National Statement to the Commission of the Status of Women, Minister Jan Tinetti Speech, Beehive Speeches, 17.03.2021

Jackie Clark and Moeroa Marsters: Surviving domestic abuse, RNZ, 13.03.2021

United Nations gives New Zealand a 'fail' grade in Family Court review, Stuff, 11.03.2021

Image: Mathias P.R. Reding on Unsplash

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