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  • Bringing Family Court out of the shadows

    In 2004, the controversial Family Court was going through a rough patch.
    Nelson MP Nick Smith had become the first MP to be convicted of contempt of court after publicly accusing it of robbing a couple of their child.

    Men's rights groups were also incensed, complaining the mysterious court favoured women and unfairly separated fathers from their children.
    At the time, the man who had stepped into the principal Family Court judge's shoes was unable to answer the criticism.Judge Peter Boshier, 60, had inherited a court that, by law, was bound by secrecy.

    But during his tenure, he worked steadily to open up the court with an aim to demystify what really went on behind the closed doors.Now, more than eight years later, Judge Boshier will leave the Family Court to take up a position at the Law Commission.

    Looking back at that first year, the softly spoken judge said he realised very quickly that he needed to make the court more open to media so the public could hear the full story.

    "I'd only just started when in Auckland there was a particularly unkind editorial about the Family Court and its secrecy and because the court couldn't publicly say what went on in relation to cases it was a pretty tough time.

    "I think that the Nick Smith prosecution really highlighted the fact we were in an impossible position because we had been attacked for decisions we had made, but couldn't publish those decisions and I realised we needed to deal with it very robustly."

    After making moves to open up the court, a high-profile case in 2007 shone the spotlight once more on the issue. When Hamilton boy Jayden Headley was abducted during a custody battle, Judge Boshier was again faced with the decision on what information to reveal.

    After a lot of deliberation he decided to release the entire decision, including identifying details, citing it as the "turning point" in the Family Court's credibility.

    Alongside the openness of the court, Judge Boshier also picks out the increased rights of children during proceedings and an early-intervention system aimed at speeding up cases as initiatives he is most pleased with.
    He is also proud of his Family Court judges, who face some of the most horrific decisions in the court system.

    As an example, Judge Boshier talks about a case he presided over involving a 14-year-old Napier boy. His parents had separated and he had a good relationship with his father, until his mother made sexual abuse allegations.

    After the father was found not guilty, the custody issue arrived in the Family Court, where Judge Boshier discovered the mother had turned the boy against his father and was sabotaging any attempts to come to a compromise.

    "I had to decide if I would force the boy to see the father . . . you know, I have to tell you, my heart was in my hands over that because I decided I had no choice but to take the boy off the mother and give [custody] to the father.
    "When I did it I knew it was risky but this is what judges have to do."
    The decision was a good one, with the boy flourishing under the care of his father.

    "They're hard decisions and I would never like there to be an impression that we do these things without a lot of churn in our minds, a lot of soul-searching and sometimes a lot of reflection."

    The Family Court Reform Bill, set to be introduced to Parliament before the end of the year, proposes some of the biggest changes in the court's 30-year history. It will introduce a mediation service, staffed by private organisations, that parties have to participate in before heading to the court.

    With an aim of curbing the Family Court's ballooning costs, it will also streamline the court into three tracks and axe automatic access to pre-court free counselling. Judge Boshier had no comment on the bill, saying the judiciary must keep out of law-making.

    But as he turned to a new challenge, he hoped any changes would help improve society. "I see parents in family disputes and I can't understand their actions, I cannot understand their conduct. I cannot believe they do the things they do and not have the insight on how it's affecting their children and therefore future generations."

    'I WAS NEVER ASKED TO LEAVE'

    Judge Peter Boshier has rejected suggestions he tried to hang on to his job after being asked to step down.A law passed in 2004 restricts the principal family court judge to an eight-year term, which expired for Judge Boshier in March.

    When that date arrived, media reports suggested he would challenge any attempt to remove him because he had been appointed a short time before the restriction came into place.

    But speaking to The Dominion Post yesterday, Judge Boshier wanted to clear up the speculation about his departure. Although he fell outside the legislation, when he took the job in 2004 he had an agreement with the attorney-general at the time, Margaret Wilson, to do eight years, he said.

    In February, he approached the Government about leaving but the process about where he would move to was not completed until July. When the media speculation surfaced, Judge Boshier said, he wanted to make a public statement but a no-response strategy was "decided by others".
    "It was left hanging, this unanswered question, as to whether I'd been asked to leave. "I was never asked to leave; it was me that initiated the departure. Why did I do it, was it to stick around deliberately?

    "It wasn't." It was because I felt that once the Government had said we will appoint you to the Law Commission and you can do it quickly, in my heart I felt I had to have an exit with the bench that was orderly and which left them with the feeling that I wasn't just suddenly walking out amidst a period of huge change within the Family Court . . .

    "While I'm sad to go, because I've really liked this job and its challenges . . . I think you have to close a book and move on to the next one and I do believe in that, I don't think to outstay your welcome is advisable."

    STEPPING UP
    Judge Laurence John Ryan will replace Judge Boshier as interim chief Family Court judge. Admitted to the bar in 1973, Judge Ryan became a barrister sole in 1988, specialising in family law.

    He was appointed to the District Court bench in 1996 with a Family Court warrant and Youth Court designation. After serving as administrative Family Court judge for the northern region, he has become principal Family Court judge.

    When the Domestic Violence Act was introduced, he established a case-flow management practice for protection order applications that was adopted by the courts. While he is initially an interim replacement, it is possible his position will be made permanent.

    Credit SHANE COWLISHAW /Fairax
    Comments 8 Comments
    1. "Frank"'s Avatar
      "Frank" -
      Time to get very, very worried New Zealand, Judge Ryan becomes interim chief Family Court judge. Read about his total disregard for the rule of law, and also disregard for parental alienation:
      http://bit.ly/ourNZexperience
    1. Yoda's Avatar
      Yoda -
      The only safeguard against judicial abuse is "transparency." This will likely to ensure proper "accountability" for correct judicial process and fair outcome. We cannot rely on any person to do the right thing.
    1. Corrigenda's Avatar
      Corrigenda -
      No we cannot rely on anything to be done right, not with snake-like lawyers and dodgy judges.
    1. Yoda's Avatar
      Yoda -
      When you cannot trust lawyers and judges (people in the justice system), what we can do is to open up the system so that the public will chance a chance to scrutinize what they are doing and put some pressure on them to comply with the rule of law.
      We cannot give up our hope. We have to fight against the corruption.
    1. flimflam's Avatar
      flimflam -
      8 years judge Boshier has had. Reforms,openness,transparency,father participation,ok fathers helped and encouraged.

      The family court looses lots of fathers, they disappear, give up,flag it and bugger off. The court knows this. Why is this? Is it because it is easy,open,accessible,doable,seen as fair and cost effective? No, no no. This is why they go, give up. If we want a better society,ok fathers must be able to give meaningful input into children, good fathers must be able to, others should be helped and encouraged and regrettably some who are beyond help or reform should become railway sleepers. Let's concentrate on the good and ok fathers. In 8 years of dealing with the family court am I more encouraged ? Yes, but not much. The problem is that the court has to be seen to be court like because it's a court. Directions are often made based on known theories
      about child developement in given situations and evidence may support directions or not, no matter. Court staff (court coordinators) can manufacture outcomes simply by appointing a particular so called expert for independent opinion. Independent - yeah right. The family court needs to address the problem with it's perception and credibility. It's what the public thinks that matters. From my side of the family court, have things changed? Well I have not seen a family court judge make directions without hearing the evidence for a few years but I was before a family court judge for a judges list concerning a child's activities recently and the judge did ask the other side (mummy) twice if they were sure there were no relationship property matters to bring before the court. Yes it was judge ulrich - no surprises there.

      Interesting that with the well publicised youth problems in Kapiti no one has considered a review of the Porirua Family Court, it's judges, court coordinator, council for children often used and specialist Psycologists often used.

      Some may remember that the Wellington city council had "the order of rabbits". Seems likely that the Porirua family court has "the order of mummies". Ann Wilbey court coordinator Porirua Family Court appoints the Psycologists - mostly women. Credibility means change and clean out of systemic gender bias. It means process that means something, that supports something other than the ability to simply say "that's the process". Take the appeal process for submissions only matters - ask the judge who's decision you are about to appeal if they will endorse your appeal and pay $1900 for the privilege to ask. I believe that's the process. How about complain about a psycologist - I believe that complaints now must be directed to the judge. Wouldn't it be more honest to say - no appeals for submissions only matters rather than some mankee process designed to be in accessible?
    1. Yoda's Avatar
      Yoda -
      Would you agree if we change the decision-maker in family disputes from judges (and state-sponsored "independent" experts) to community-appointed adjudicators who hear and discuss solutions for the parties - more like mediation without legalizing problems or solutions.

      Maybe, law does not fit quite well when it comes to family disputes.
    1. flimflam's Avatar
      flimflam -
      Yoda is on the money. Court does not fit all typical access disputes. The family court is largely about mitigation.

      Mum and dad don't communicate well on matters concerning children so they go to court, they don't go there because they do communicate well. The court mitigates, these are often not legal issues, they should be common sense. The court often has a predetermined view given ages of children. Trouble is that they keep it a secrete until after the hearing but they need evidence to support a finding, often predetermined although judges are supposed to hear evidence prior to making directions, so court appointed officers such as council for the child or a psycologist provides the nod, nod, wink, wink evidence. This is done in a way that is supposed to satisfy the process of justice. The judge applies a weighting to the evidence which supports the predetermined outcome - simple and often unbelievable. Is this court gender bias, I say yes in my experience with out any doubt. So the court can have any view it chooses about its reforms, new look process etc. They don't even review outcomes in say 12 or 24 months for example. Fathers give up, yet the court dosent even keep a record of this. Does this tell us something? That fathers consistent and meaning ful input is not valued enough. Mummy gets legal aid, not chastised for lying, for breaching orders or even a mention for putting herself, her shoe collection, her clothes, her makeup, her pot all before her children in many cases. This can only send one signal to fathers and guess what? We loose fathers because they give up. They pay real tax paid money to lawyers, no legal aid for them if mummy is getting it and she is on the beni so mummy is legally aided (her lawyer is paid for) so why not make it hard for dad she says. Wake up court we want a better society, the family court at this time has a major role to play in shaping our society and a lot of it is pretty fatherless and male teacherless. You see the results at the local mall and in Kapiti. Which family court services that area - Porirua family court. Come on let's have some open media reviews, we will pick the cases and see how well the court process actually did.
    1. Yoda's Avatar
      Yoda -
      The court often has a predetermined view given ages of children. Trouble is that they keep it a secrete until after the hearing but they need evidence to support a finding, often predetermined although judges are supposed to hear evidence prior to making directions, so court appointed officers such as council for the child or a psycologist provides the nod, nod, wink, wink evidence. This is done in a way that is supposed to satisfy the process of justice. The judge applies a weighting to the evidence which supports the predetermined outcome - simple and often unbelievable.

      I see the above as the problem. I appreciate for your comment.
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