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Peter Boshier Principal Judge of the NZ Family Court

The Court deals with protection orders after there's been domestic violence say and decides custody matters, but the Court has been criticised over the years vehemently for the length of time it takes to make decisions, and it is especially criticised by

Q + A: Paul Holmes interviews Peter Boshier (Source: ONE News)

ONE News Peter Boshier

    * WATCH the video (9:08)


PAUL The Family Court was established back in the early 80s, it's become a very controversial court.  The Family Court deals with some of the most sensitive most difficult matters in our community life.  It handles the painful disputes within families, within marriages.  It has a huge effect on the lives of children.  The Court deals with protection orders after there's been domestic violence say and decides custody matters, but the Court has been criticised over the years vehemently for the length of time it takes to make decisions, and it is especially criticised by men's groups who say the Court fails fathers, and is mother biased.  Well the Principal Judge of the Family Court since 2004 is Principal Judge Peter Boshier.  Thank you very much for joining us.

PETER Good morning.

PAUL  How bad are the delays in say your custody issues?

PETER BOSHIER - Principal Family Court Judge
We have delays that we've got to improve on.  When people have go their children's issues to resolve they've got to have them done speedily, so we've got a long way to go yet to make access of justice where I want it to be.

PAUL What causes the delays?

PETER Sheer volume of work Paul, we are the second busiest court now in New Zealand, 87,000 applications are filed in our court each year, and 27,000 of those deal with care of children, so it's sheer volume.

PAUL Sheer volume, and I spose you're dealing in shades of grey aren't you?

PETER  We are, and we're dealing with people, who feel that they know what's best for their children when they don't always.  They're often their own issues.

PAUL Exactly, both parents know what is best.  Dr Muriel Newman however, the former ACT MP says the delays are horrendous Peter, she says sometimes custody cases are taking up to a year.  Now that's a long period, I mean even before it gets to the Family Court this is a long period of uncertainty for kids isn't it?

PETER Yes, and that's why I've been very keen to do reforms in the Family Court, I think we've needed to.

PAUL But what are you doing about getting them down beneath a year?

PETER Well we have now a programme called Less Adversarial Trials.  That's turning the way we do court work on our head, because we're now limiting the sort of issues that people have bring.  So traditionally people have flown with whatever they've wanted to, we've now been much tighter and we're reducing the time that we're prepared to give them for their cases.

PAUL You've also added another stratum haven't you, you've got mediation now.


PAUL Which keeps things away from the judges, takes some of the volume of work off judges?

PAUL So what kind of cases would go this mediation stratum?

PAUL Well the Family Court matters legislation passed last year sets up mediation for non judges, but it's yet to be funded and introduced.  So I unapologetically want to say to you I will look forward to the day when we have funded and we have non judge led mediation.

PAUL Right, so it's been set up, non judge led mediation, but no funding for it?


PAUL Now your attitude to fathers, Judge.  Bob McCroskey of Family First, a thorn in your side I guess, he quotes - well he got this through the Official Information Act, he says the Court remains unfair to fathers.  He says 50/50 custody is granted in only 13% of cases, and women get sole custody in two thirds of cases, that hardly seems to be balanced equally between mothers and fathers.

PETER Mm, well one of the good things about the openness of the Court which I've been very very comfortable with, is the that we now publish our statistics, and they demonstrate that the times that men get care of their children, pretty much correspond with the times when they apply for them.  So to the extent that mothers get care more than fathers, it's almost exactly proportionate to the number of times that men and women apply.  It's uncanny.

PAUL Explain that to me.

PETER Right, well if you've got a mother applying for sole care, it's logical she's probably going to get sole care.  If a father applies for sole care he might, and so the number of applications that mothers file are many many more than fathers.

PAUL Right, so when Bob McCroskey says 50/50 custody is granted in only 13% of cases that does not necessarily imply a bias against fathers?

PETER No no, exactly, and you can't force fathers to have equal care if they don't want it, many fathers don't, and Family Court Judges are forever exhorting reluctant fathers to have more care time, but I think that we're getting there on changes to attitudes, and I'm pleased that men are willing and wanting to be more fatherly.

PAUL Because there is a danger in their not being fatherly isn't there, fathers get alienated from their kids of course the less they have to do with them.  Are these figures roughly right.  According to some research I discovered there is a great danger in children having no fathers.  A child that has no father is 14 times more likely to rape, 20 more times likely to go to prison, would those numbers surprise you?

PETER They wouldn't surprise me, and if you looked probably at the figures in the Youth Court of the profile of young people offending, a lot of them Paul will unfortunately come from dysfunctional families, and probably even not know their fathers.

PAUL Of course on this business and before we go, was it because of the Men's Groups and the aggravation they gave you, and the what you perceived to be misunderstandings that you opened the Family Court to the news media, or to the public via the news media?

PETER No, when I was appointed in 2004 I just felt that it was wrong, that you had a court operating that wasn't transparent and accountable, so you do need to protect privacy, but it's wrong frankly to have a court that the public doesn't know what goes on inside, so it was always the right thing to do.

PAUL Does the Family Court have the view that mothers are more important?

PETER No.  No, in fact what I'd want to stress is that what I'm most wanting in my time is to have families that even when they separate they have both parents.  If we can achieve both parents looking after their children, even though they're separated, we're gonna have a much better society.

PAUL Domestic violence, Judge Boshier, you've called it one of the most pernicious problems facing this country.  How bad is it, what do you see?

PETER We're a very violent society in New Zealand, and I don't know why.  Some of the violence that I see when I'm doing defended cases, frankly Paul it moves me sometimes nearly to tears.  I don't know why the violence is just so awful and we see domestic violence cases played out in the media, the beatings of the most awful sort, it is a problem that cannot possibly be exaggerated, it is there.

PAUL You've questioned some of the domestic violence programmes, you wonder if they work?

PETER Yes, yes.

PAUL In what ways do you think they don't, what tells you that they might not be working, the numbers?  75,000 cases reported of domestic violence in 2006 alone.  Anyway what tells you?

PETER Well I don't think that we can just send every person who's a perpetrator of violence to the same programme and expect that it's going to be good for them.  I think what we need to do is look at what each individual perpetrator is doing, why, their ethnicity, their culture, whether they're affected by drugs, if they're on methamphetamine you can't treat them the same as just some other perpetrators of violence that aren't on P, so it depends.

PAUL You went on to the Stellar Trust recently which is a trust aimed at creating awareness of P, and the scourge of P and the dangers of P, are you starting to see more and more P related domestic violence, family breakdown?

PETER Yes, and you know the thing that really worries me about P is that in the care and protection work we do, that is to say where the State intervenes, it's so hard to rehabilitate young parents who are on P, and you can rehabilitate young parents on some other drugs, they can go to Odyssey House, but to try and rehabilitate young parents on P, we're really looking at the State often taking the children off them, it's so hard to get a positive turn around, that's my difficulty.

PAUL That's your worry about that particular drug?

PETER Yes it is, and it seems that once people are addicted to P, the violence that often I can't even recall afterwards is just massive, more than I would normally expect to see.

PAUL Quick word on the proposed On the Spot Protection Orders which the government is proposing.  The Bill is in parliament now.  Basically what this will do is if there's a domestic violence incident the Police are called, the Police will come round to the house, if they think they know what's gone on, they can remove a party from the house for five days, in other words on a hunch a 22 year old constable can throw 57 year old Jo Bloggs out of the house he's paid the mortgage on for 30 years, what do you think of this particular proposal?

PETER Well it has my support, I think that when the Police go in there is demonstrable violence they can arrest, if they arrest they can't issue an On the Spot Protection Order, so it's a lesser being and I think it will be good in cases where one party is just out of control, there is obviously going to be violence and there has been, but the Police just can't work out who's occasioned it.  So I think that there are times when it's going to provide security to that family that's just under siege.

PAUL I thank you so much for your work, and for coming on the programme.

PETER  Thank you it's nice to be here.

PAUL Principal Judge of the Family Court, Peter Boshier.

Last edit: by Secretary SPCA

Executive Secretary - Shared Parenting Council of Australia
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