A district court is barely coping with domestic violence crimes, with more than 200 cases each week in Hamilton alone.

And a judge has told domestic violence workers Hamilton District Court does not have enough resources to handle the phenomenal number of family harm cases.

A day earlier the domestic violence symposium, led by the Waikato Women's Refuge, heard the powerful story of victim Mereana Love, whose mother was murdered by a former partner when Love was just 9.

On June 3, 1996, Leonie Newman was beaten, strangled with a belt, and stabbed 27 times by her ex-partner Leon Wilson.


The eldest of her three children, Love, came home to find her grandmother sobbing on the phone. The older woman uttered the words that would change Love's life forever.

"Mum's dead."

Since that day, in memory of her mother, Love has been fighting to end domestic violence.

Judge Phil Connell's perspective on domestic violence was just as sobering.

He spoke of perpetual delays in the justice system combined with laws that forced judges to sentence offenders to jail instead of rehabilitation, and an irreversible emotional harm to children, as contributing to the continuing cycle of family violence.

Mereana Love speaks to a domestic violence symposium in Hamilton her work to end family violence. Photo / Supplied.
Mereana Love speaks to a domestic violence symposium in Hamilton her work to end family violence. Photo / Supplied.

Connell believed there could be a better distribution of funding around family violence.

"It's the volume of work. Two hundred cases a week come into the Hamilton District Court - that's just one court - which are described as family violence.

"That's a lot of cases. You need a lot of people to deal with that. You need a lot of judges to deal with that. And I'd say it to you at the moment that we lack here in Hamilton, court room space to run a proper court for family violence."


Hamilton is to lose a family court judge in November who was not being replaced, Connell said, "and that'll be a disaster" because the retired judges who would help fill that gap won't be enough.

The overwhelming number of cases lead to huge delays, which leads to reoffending and could results in the victim retracting their statement.

A "Pathways Court" was set up to try to tackle the number of cases and resulting delays.

The interagency initiative, supported by Women's Refuge and the Hamilton Abuse Intervention Programme [HAIP], began in late 2016 and ran successfully for more than 18 months, sometimes moving cases through within two weeks.

Connell said he had five judges ready to tackle domestic violence full time but Hamilton was not equipped to deal with the crime like other centres such as Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, which had dedicated domestic violence courts.

In a normal court room cases can take months to process or even years if an offender selects trial.

Lengthy delays are likely to result in a victim retracting her statement, Connell said, usually out of love or fear.

Delays also resulted in "great damage done to children".

"Often dads who indulge in violence are not necessarily bad fathers and, in fact, they do have a bond with their child.

"And as soon as you start putting people inside and remanding in custody you're breaking that bond. And that damages children badly."

Much family violence arises from the abuse of alcohol and methamphetamine, Connell said, as well as poverty.

He wanted prevention over detention and said judges thought up clever ways to avoid a three strikes warning because the punishment was "cruel" and imprisonment was a waste of life.

"We should be working on the prevention of all of this instead of courts providing the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff to deal with it all."

He called family violence in New Zealand a "horrendous problem" that worried him greatly and suggested change could only come from communities lobbying their local MPs to get more funding for rehabilitation course such as ones provided by HAIP.