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Backbone releases report on Family Court appeals and complaints

September 14, 2017 at 3:31 PM

*From the New Zealand Family Violence Clearinghouse*

The Backbone Collective have released a third report on the Family Court.

The report, Don't tell me your problems: The Family Court complaints and appeals landscape (2017) considers the availability and effectiveness of appeals and complaints mechanisms.

The report states,

"When Backbone released its first Watchdog report ‘All Eyes on the Family Court’ in April 2017, we outlined issues that women had told Backbone they experienced in the Family Court including that the Family Court was closed and secretive, lacked accountability and transparency and the complaints systems did not work.

Principal Family Court Judge - Laurence Ryan and Minister for Justice and Courts – Amy Adams, publicly responded stating that Backbone was incorrect to suggest the Family Court is closed, and unaccountable. They said that women had access to ways to review the Family Court proceedings via appeal and the Judicial Conduct Commissioner if they were not happy. Having now examined the appeal process and the multiple complaints mechanisms available (or not), Backbone is as convinced as ever that the Family Court is a law unto itself – it is closed, secretive and unaccountable and the complaints processes available are ineffective." (p.1)

The report states:

  • Many women do not complain due to a lack of information, lack of affordability, trauma and fear
  • Some women  "described  serious  repercussions  for  complaining  and  privacy  breaches  of  their complaints that have resulted in biased and unsafe decisions being made in the court" (p.2)

  • The legal appeals process is not always available and has significant barriers as it is costly, requires adequate legal representation, has narrow time limits and is only available for final orders unless leave is granted by the same Judge who made the interim decision that is being appealed


  • The Family Court makes decisions which impact on the lives of children and their safety. However there is "no authority that is responsible for independently overseeing the safety and rights of children who are subject to Family Court proceedings, and there is no independent and safe mechanism for children to complain." (p.2) In the coming months Backbone will be surveying its members specifically on how their children have been treated by the Family Court.

The report considers appeals processes and the role of a range of organisations in relation to complaints. Backbone states,

"We believe that this report will show the reader that none of these avenues satisfactorily address the genuine and critical concerns women have about the operation of the Family Court with regard to their and their children’s experience of violence and abuse. Backbone members are telling us that the appeals and complaints processes are not working for women who have experienced violence and abuse and are involved in Family Court proceedings - there is an ‘every door is the wrong door’ system operating in New Zealand." (p.7)

The report is based on a number of sources including Backbone's survey of nearly 500 women who had been involved in the Family Court. This included information from 118 women about their experiences of complaining and appealing. A mini-survey was then carried out and the 31 women who took part were asked more comprehensive questions about the appeals and complaints process. Backbone also gathered about the appeals process and various complaints bodies in New Zealand, including through Official Information Act requests.

Backbone reiterated its call for a Royal Commission of Inquiry into the Family Court.

Background information

See these previous NZFVC stories:

Media investigates Family Court orders and "disturbing" footage of uplifting children

Backbone Collective: "overwhelmingly negative feedback" on the Family Court

Backbone Collective releases first report on the Family Court 
Includes relevant research and resources

New collective for survivors of violence against women launched: The Backbone Collective

Related media

Backbone women stand in protest today, The Post, 01.09.2017

Domestic violence survivors call for an inquiry into the NZ Family Court, Māori TV, 17.08.2017

Community Letter Demands Inquiry into Family Courts, Media Release: Community In Action, Scoop, 17.08.2017

Tears as petition for Family Court inquiry handed over, Newsroom, 17.08.2017

Category: Reports