Vocally blaming family court judges for perceived biases against men is something that we’ve regularly seen occur in Australia in recent years, but in New Zealand, the frustration of fathers rights groups has boiled over into a situation where family court judges are now having their homes picketed and require police protection.
NZ’s family court system struggles under many of the same pressures as that of Australia, and public confidence in the criminal system and in family law has been “eroded”.
Now, fathers rights groups have taken to picketing the homes of at least three family court judges in Auckland, with the disgruntled dads protesting with placards and megaphones. Protests so far have been peaceful and there have not been reports of property damage or trespass. However, the NZ Government has called out the protests as “very disturbing”.
The country’s Minister of Justice and Courts, Mr Andrew Little, said there was “no excuse for people taking their case to the front door of a judge” and said it wasn’t doing their cause any favours. He said:
“I would not be persuaded or convinced by anybody who thought it was okay to target judges and their families in this sort of way…The reason for that sort of protest is to create some level of intimidation and that is entirely unacceptable.”
While the court process necessarily creates ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, those unhappy with court decisions should not simply “attack judges personally in a country governed by the rule of law”.
The NZ Law Society’s family law section chair, Ms Kirsty Swadling, has also voiced her concerns:
“It is disturbing that people are being threatened whether implicitly or directly in this way, including their families. We are also concerned about the effects of protests and any other security issues on court staff, psychologists and lawyers.”
The act of protesting itself is not unlawful but members of the public (including the judges) who feel threatened or intimidated by protesters can report this to the police.
The Minister of Justice says for those with disagreements over family law or the family court system, it’s appropriate to protest on the court steps, rather than demonstrating outside lawyers’, judges’ or politicians’ homes. Protesters can also make submissions to review panels, rather than target individuals, “especially judges who are unable, by convention, to defend themselves”.
And for those who wish to challenge a particular judge’s decision, there are rights of appeal.
“The people living at judges’ homes are not the ones sitting on the bench making decisions about those family disputes in court”, the Minister of Justice said.
Men who have lost custody or visitation rights to their kids gathering outside the homes of family court judges is “just wrong”, said Mr Little. He said it was “very disturbing” that police are being required to protect family court judges at their private residences from fathers rights groups.
It should be noted that, while a far more appropriate venue, protesters on the court steps could potentially also be an intimidating situation for court users. As both the NZ and the Australian governments grapple with how to reform their family law systems, careful consideration has to be given to measures to reduce risk and enhance safety for court workers and court users.
Do you need assistance with a parenting or other family law matter? Please contact Canberra family lawyer Cristina Huesch or one of our other experienced solicitors here at Alliance Legal Services on (02) 6223 2400.
Please note our blogs are not legal advice. For information on how to obtain the correct legal advice, please contact Alliance Legal Services.