By PAUL EASTON - The Dominion Post | Monday, 23 April 2007
Easter eggs delivered through lawyers and years of frustration mark the way the New Zealand justice system deals with child access cases.
That's the view of a man at the centre of a case that caused the United Nations Human Rights Committee to criticise the way the New Zealand legal system works last week.
"You are out of your element, you are not in your house, they are in theirs. You're like a fish out of water," he said.
The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, began a child-access battle with his estranged wife in November, 2000.
Since then, allegations of sexual abuse have been made, and protection orders filed.
Almost seven years later the case is still ongoing.
Police became involved, but decided not to press charges after a 20-month investigation. The case ended up at the Court of Appeal - that process taking three years and four months. The man was eventually denied access to his daughters and an issue over access to his son is back before the Family Court.
New Zealand human rights lawyer Tony Ellis took the man's case to the UN human rights committee which found that the lengthy proceedings had breached the man's rights. The committee said "the very nature" of custody and access cases meant they must be resolved quickly before the interests of a non-custodial parent are "irreparably harmed".
The man said later that he was thrilled with the decision, but the drawn-out proceedings had taken their toll. "It's hard to describe. It feels like you are crying from your heart," he said. "They (the children) are only a few miles away but you can't see them. You live with it all the time."
The man said he might seek compensation through the High Court, and still wants to fight for access to his children, whom he has not spent time with for seven years. Police in New Zealand were not properly resourced to deal with the case, he said. "They would start to look at it, then something would come up and it would all stop again."
The New Zealand Government has three months to present remedies for the situation to the UN Human Rights Committee.
The man's new partner said they hoped by speaking out they would help people going through the same thing. "The way the system is there is no protection. It can happen to anyone."