home button about button donate button contact button
Drawn image showing a gavel squashing children
Colourful squiggle design Colourful squiggle design

What does the image above symbolise?

The image above symbolises how the justice system is doing more harm than good. The motion of the gavel squashing the children underneath it is a direct representation of how the legal system is not doing the children in New Zealand justice because they are ignoring such a vital part of our country. Children need to be better protected in New Zealand’s legal system because stress from being in court can lead to a variety of repercussions later on in the child’s life.

Meet James:

cartoon image of a boy

James was just 14 when the police came for him. He was arrested, and taken in handcuffs, on a plane, to another country, his court-ordered new home.

On arrival, he was placed in a locked motel room, with security at the door. When James ran away, three officers arrested him and took him to a juvenile detention centre. A video shows James kicking and yelling, refusing to go with police. One officer kneels on the boy to get his arms behind his back. They have to forcibly lift his Rigid body into the van.

His crime? James didn't want to see his father. But the Family Court decided he had to, because it was best for him. After thirteen years of a custody battle, a judge found that James' opinions about his father stemmed not from his father's behaviour, but were, effectively, inherited from his mother.

His mother had turned James against his father, the court said, because of her own negative feelings. His mother had taught James his father was dangerous, when the court had already decided he was not.

His mother had alienated him.

And so, James was taken from his mother, his school, and his friends, and the town where he had lived - except for school holiday visits to his father - since he was two-years-old.

I don't belong here, James told the court during his appeal, held while he was still in the youth justice facility. It's not my home, I just want to go home.

What happened to James is rare in New Zealand only in that it is so extreme. James should have been allowed the free legal counsel he was entitled to and because he didn't know about the legal help he was allowed, this had devastating consequences on his life. is was the worst case scenario, one even the court deemed a last resort. But - if you dig through the case notes to its beginning - where his mother raised serious domestic violence allegations during a divorce - it fits a pattern that advocates say is dangerously common in the Family Court: mothers who accuse their ex-partners of violence are in turn accused of a behaviour called parental alienation, a form of psychological abuse. It's a way of deflecting attention away from the father and on to the mother, says psychologist and researcher Alison Towns. It frames the mother as the abuser, so that she's got the problem. Sometimes, alienation accusations are dismissed by the court. And sometimes, women are believed when they allege violence, and children are heard and considered reasonable when they say they don't want to see an abusive parent.

But in situations where a judge decides a vindictive or hostile parent is making up the violence, or coaching the child, the consequences can be devastating. Family Court records accessed by Stuff detail how fathers were granted custody despite serious allegations of violence - and even where the court upheld those allegations. James should have been allowed the free legal counsel he was entitled to and because he didn't know about the legal help he was allowed, this had devastating consequences on his life.