Nothing short of a major overhaul of the court system is needed to address family violence - the "sickness of society", Dame Cath Tizard said today.

The former Governor-General delivered a strongly-worded speech to release the $2 million inquiry called People's Report, funded by Sir Owen Glenn, in Wellington today.

The report suggested potential changes to the present system, including shifting the burden of proof in domestic violence cases so alleged abusers are considered guilty until proven innocent.

Click here to read the full report.


The idea came from overwhelming anecdotal evidence that the court system was "dysfunctional and broken" and hindered the process, rather than helped the victim.

Dame Cath, the inquiry patron, said 60 per cent of all reported violence is family-related.

"It's pretty clear that there can't be many families in New Zealand who are not touched by it in some way ... second-hand, if not directly. It is a sickness of our society that thrives in conditions of secrecy."

She said the report collated 500 people's real experiences with family violence, including victims, offenders and frontline workers.

"With the unique authority of their personal experience, they tell us what helped, what didn't, and what actually made things worse.

"Reading some of the accounts was almost unbearable -- raw, unvarnished experience."

Many of those interviewed called for a review of the entire system, "from the part that friends and neighbours play, or don't play, right up to Government agencies and politicians".

Sir Owen Glenn, who was not present today because of commitments in Europe, said in a statement that the current system was not working.

"There can't be a more urgent issue facing our society ... Police respond to one family violence call every seven minutes, each day of the year."

Families Commissioner Belinda Milnes said the report showed the importance of quality relationship education in schools as a prevention tool.

"And it reinforces the need to change behaviours and say that alcohol abuse and violence are not a normal part of home life."

Labour leader David Cunliffe called for a radical culture change across government and the community, and for political parties to work together to achieve positive change.

"This issue is far too important to be side-lined by political bickering," he said.

Green Party MP Jan Logie also called for political parties to work together, including reconsidering alternative trial processes.

"Nothing in the Government's reform of the Family Court, or its Vulnerable Children's Strategy, is going to make the system safer. In fact in most cases the changes will make the system even more dangerous for victims of abuse.

Dame Cath also addressed the "distractions and challenges" over the past year -- referring to the resignations that plagued the inquiry last year.

"Well, this lady is another one that's not for turning. I didn't accept this position of patron ... because of its founder, its author, or the people associated with it. It was because of the objective."

She considered leaving, but didn't want to further damage the inquiry.

"The differences of opinion and the leavings were mainly administrative matters, and a misunderstanding. But that's in the past, and the way this group has worked together is just brilliant."

Inquiry chair Bill Wilson, QC, a former Supreme Court Judge, said the resignations caused only short-term damage to the inquiry's credibility.

"They were replaced, and a number of people stayed on, and the inquiry was not derailed."

The report is online here.