The United Nations' special rapporteur on violence against women is being urged to visit New Zealand by outgoing Human Rights Commissioner Jackie Blue to investigate the Family Court.

Justice Minister Andrew Little says he had nothing to fear from an external review but he is close to finalising details of a comprehensive review of the Family Court.

Blue said women victims of violence who went through the Family court felt revictimised by the courts and many had been accused of parental alienation – where mothers are accused of maliciously getting their children to make false claims against their fathers.

Blue, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner, was part of the Government delegation in a UN review in Geneva of New Zealand's record in the field of women's rights.


She told TV1's Q + A show today she was "shocked" at evidence of the NGO the Backbone Collective to the review committee – and so was the committee.

"I'll tell you one thing they were particularly shocked about and that was how women are treated in the family courts ... and I was shocked.

"I supported the call for a special rapporteur on violence against women to come to New Zealand to investigate women's experience in the Family Court."

The Backbone Collective gave evidence to the four-yearly review, which is held under the UN Conventions on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

The Backbone Collective, founded by Ruth Herbert, included the report of a recent survey on the Family Court's response to children when they or their mothers had experienced violence and abuse (involving 288 mothers and 591 children).

It concluded that 54 per cent of children were being forced into care and contact arrangements with the abuser that the children did not want.

Justice Minister Andrew Little says he is not far from taking the details of the Family Court review to cabinet. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Justice Minister Andrew Little says he is not far from taking the details of the Family Court review to cabinet. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Only 2.2 per cent of mothers had said the court had ordered a risk assessment to determine the risk of dangerousness.

And it concluded that in the absence of a risk assessment, the Family Court was characterising mothers who raised genuine safety concerns as "parental alienators."


"Children are not being believed about their experiences of violence or abuse," the Backbone reports says.

"Evidence of it occurring is being disregarded in the court and mothers are being blamed for their children's fears for their safety."

The delegation was led by Jan Logie, Under-Secretary to the Minister of Justice on domestic and sexual violence issues.

The Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences was established in 1994 and had its mandate renewed by the Human Right Council most recently in 2016.

Little said if the Special Rapporteur wanted to come to New Zealand, the Government would facilitate that.

"I don't consider I have anything to fear from an external group coming and critiquing what's happening with our Family Court. There is a process of change happening and an external critique is not something to be afraid of."

Little told the Herald that setting up the review was taking longer than he had hoped but it would be before cabinet within weeks.

He had the agreement of three people to conduct a review of the Family Court. The reviewers would be supported by an expert advisory group including an expert on domestic violence and child development.

The review would take a human rights approach "not only because of the human rights issues raised by the Backbone collective particularly those who are victims of domestic violence but also for men who are saying that they are being shut out of the opportunity to do some of the parenting after their families have broken up."

Another major issue was the lengthy delay children were facing around decisions about their care.

He said some of the findings of the Backbone Collective had been "pretty disturbing and chilling" but it was not a review of all users of the court.