4 Aug 2021

Wellington woman devastated urgent protection order hearing delayed after 14 months

9:09 am on 4 August 2021

A Wellington woman is devastated her application for an urgent protection order has been delayed because the court didn't tell her a hearing date had been set.

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Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

The woman, who RNZ has agreed to call 'Trish', filed the application more than 14 months ago, but won't step foot in court for at least a few more now.

RNZ first spoke to Trish in May last year, after she'd requested a family harm report to support an urgent protection order during last year's lockdown.

The police treated her request as an Official Information Act Request (OIA), which can take 20 working days or longer to process, and have since apologised.

Fourteen months on, Trish's hearing in the Wellington District Court this week finally arrived; the only thing is the court didn't tell her, or her lawyer.

"We had no prior knowledge of this set down so we had no preparation done. They said they'll probably cancel it because I didn't know about it, my lawyer didn't know about it and the respondent probably didn't know about it.

"In which case, it probably won't be until the end of the year, sometime after November, that we'll actually get a hearing. So yeah, it's been 14 months I've been living in limbo with this hanging over me and my family's life."

Trish said she understands people make mistakes but the delays and months of waiting come at a huge emotional cost.

"Just a feeling of constant insecurity really, and sort of I suppose low-level anxiety you're living with all the time because you don't know what's happening, where you're at and where you can go.

"I feel like I'm stuck here a bit because I didn't want to risk leaving town because then it might get transferred to another court and who knows what will happen. Do I have to start from scratch again? I don't know."

Trish's lawyer, Cuba Family Law director Marieke Van den Bergh, said she's concerned about the time delay and any impact it may have on the application's outcome.

"Family violence matters are supposed to be given some priority in the court. Having to wait for over a year for an applicant to have their case heard is just much longer than what is contemplated under the legislation."

She said some of the adjournments in Trish's case can be put down to complications in the case but even factoring those in, there's still no good reason it's dragged on this long.

Trish said she feels let down by a system that's supposed to help her and wants a hearing date as soon as possible, on the proviso she's not prioritised over others who've waited longer.

"Where is the justice in letting someone live in this situation? There's no justice and well heck, the courts must be pretty blimmin' dysfunctional if this sort of thing is going on. It's really shocking. It's really hard to believe that this is what's happened."

Minister of Justice Kris Faafoi can't comment on individual cases but said the Family Court has been under pressure for some time, not helped by the 2014 reforms that were introduced by a previous National government.

"I think they [the 2014 reforms] have created more opportunities for delays.

"Again, I don't want to comment on any particular case but some of the changes and the funding and the extra resources like more judges and family court associates I hope will be able to take some of the pain out of the system that people have experienced."

Faafoi's predecessor Andrew Little ordered an independent review of the family justice reforms, that came back with 69 recommendations for improvement.

Faafoi said these improvements wouldn't happen overnight but addressing concerns in the Family Court was one of the priorities in his portfolio.

The changes can't come fast enough for Trish who continues to wait, living with uncertainty and anxiety for 14 months now, until she gets a court hearing.

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