Simon Bridges 'sceptical' about call for more Māori officials in Family Court

Simon Bridges is "sceptical" about recommendations for more Māori judges in the Family Court and that Māori children should be appointed a Māori lawyer.

Bridges, leader of the National Party, said he was doubtful that having a "separate system where Māori are only dealt with by Māori lawyers will make meaningful change".

He told Magic Talk: "Yes, we want cases dealt with sympathetically, yes sometimes that means people who are culturally the same as you, but I think we should be sceptical about that."

Bridges also commented on the Children's Commissioner announcing his office will be reviewing Oranga Tamariki following reports of children being removed from their families by the state child protection agency.

Bridges said rather than pointing blame at Oranga Tamariki, he "personally believes the welfare state has a lot to answer for". 

The National leader said there is "a lot of truth" in statements by the late renowned Ngāti Porou leader and politician Sir Āpirana Ngata who warned about the destructive effect of welfare on Māori. 

National leader Simon Bridges believes "the welfare state has a lot to answer for".
National leader Simon Bridges believes "the welfare state has a lot to answer for". Photo credit: Getty

Family Justice System recommendations

Providing more Māori judges to the Family Court was one of 70 recommendations made by an independent panel that reviewed the former National-led government's 2014 Family Court reforms.

The panel's report highlighted, among a range of other issues, a failure to incorporate tikanga Māori principles into family justice processes, and a deficiency of understanding around family violence issues.

Rosslyn Noonan, chairwoman of the panel, said there was a "real issue about how alien the current court process and procedures are, certainly for Māori and for others who are not Pakeha".

The review found there has been an "absence of a Māori family justice workforce". It said concepts such as whānau are "poorly recognised" in the current family justice system.

The review found that Māori whānau, support workers and lawyers report that the Family Court can be a "foreign, isolating and intimidating experience".

Therefore, the panel has recommended phasing in the presumption that Māori lawyers for children are appointed for tamariki Māori.

It also said until sufficient Māori judges are appointed to the Family Court, Māori Land Court judges should be appointed to sit in the Family Court, and that all new Family Court judges should spend one week observing Māori Land Court proceedings.

The Māori Land Court hears cases on all matters related to Māori land. It's described as "responsive to whānau Māori, encourages the use of te reo Māori and incorporates tikanga Māori in court proceedings".

The Institute of Judicial Studies has te reo and tikanga Māori programmes, however, these are not compulsory for Family Court judges, the review pointed out.

Justice Minister Andrew Little announced a review into the Family Justice System in August 2018.
Justice Minister Andrew Little announced a review into the Family Justice System in August 2018. Photo credit: Getty

The case for recognising Māori in law, policies and practices has been made repeatedly in reports on the justice sector, as well as other sectors, dating back to the 1980s and earlier, the review said.

"It cannot be allowed to continue as it is now, we cannot continue with a monocultural Family Court because it's damaging to children and young people, it's damaging to families," Noonan, a former Chief Human Rights Commissioner, said.

Justice Minister Andrew Little, who announced the review in August, last year, said he would not commit to introducing any legislation for justice system reforms before the 2020 election.  

He said Cabinet would need to consider the recommendations made by the independent panel, and would need to receive advice before making any decisions.

But Little did say the recommendations made "are extensive and require a meaningful response from the Government in due course".

Pointing to the former National-led government's 2014 reforms, he said the changes "were meant to make things easier for families at a difficult time, but they have had the opposite effect".

He said he was "keen to give close consideration to the recommendations about the need for more culturally sensitive approaches".