A group advocating for family violence and abuse victims is calling for a commission of inquiry into the Family Court after a new survey showed hundreds of women felt "failed" by the system.

The survey, Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire, was carried out by the Backbone Collective, an independent body aiming to take action against domestic and sexual violence towards women.

The group have also vowed to act as a Family Court watchdog, saying the system is riddled with "widespread failures" and dysfunction which further harms women and children.

The survey report was provided exclusively to the Herald and will be released publicly today.


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It coincides with yesterday's Family Violence Summit which was held in Wellington and headed by Justice Minister Amy Adams and Social Development Minister Anne Tolley.

"Our report shares with those in authority what nearly 500 women have to say about the Family Court," said collective co-founder Deb Mackenzie.

"Women have told Backbone loudly and clearly that when they go to the Family Court seeking protection after leaving an abusive partner their situation and that of their children is made worse not better.

"This is of enormous concern and requires urgent attention by all those in authority."

Deborah MacKenzie (left) and Ruth Herbert. Photo / NZ Herald
Deborah MacKenzie (left) and Ruth Herbert. Photo / NZ Herald

The report focuses on the feedback of more than 600 women who shared their experience of the Family Court and how it impacted - negatively or positively - on them and their children.

The collective says it will release more reports over the coming months about other issues women raised relating to abuse, violence and family harm.

"The women who took part have been very consistent in their feedback to the multiple questions we asked them in this survey," the report stated.

"They have told us loudly and clearly that the Family Court in New Zealand is putting them and their children in more danger - it is neither safe nor enables them to rebuild their lives."

Mackenzie and co-founder Ruth Herbert said the feedback should be of "grave concern" to the New Zealand public, authorities and Government.

"Action is required right now," said Herbert.


"Women and children are telling us they need change urgently for their safety.

"The number of women raising serious issues with the Family Court signals that greater investigation is needed and the only safe and appropriate way that investigation can happen is through a royal commission of inquiry - that is the only responsible step Government can take based on the information contained in this report."

The collective said the only way to "safely and robustly determine" whether the issues highlighted in the report were accurate and as widespread as the respondents suggested was an official inquiry.

"A royal commission is the only forum where the women and their families or whanau would feel protected enough to tell their stories, where witnesses with specialist insights into the workings of the Family Court could share their views in confidence and where all their court documents and procedures can be independently reviewed.

"With over 500 women saying that the New Zealand Family Court makes them and their children less safe, leaves them with multiple crippling health conditions and prevents them from rebuilding their lives - and those of their children - surely those in authority will listen now?"

Justice Minister Amy Adams headed the summit. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Justice Minister Amy Adams headed the summit. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Justice Minister Amy Adams was yet to see the report.

She spent all of yesterday heading the summit and expected to receive a copy today.

However, she said when looking at the operation of the courts, including the Family Court, it was important to remember that the management of cases through the court, judicial training, case scheduling and the orders made are solely the responsibility of judiciary and outside the domain of Government.

"However, what I can say is that the Government absolutely is interested in understanding how the Family Court is serving victims of family violence," she said.

"That's why the Ministry of Justice is undertaking comprehensive research about the impacts of the Family Court reforms, including the reasons for without notice applications."

Adams has no further comment until she had read the collective's report in full.

To read the full report, visit the Backbone Collective website.