Judge links suicides to family break-ups

NZ Herald Nov 19, 2009

A top judge has called for more mental health support for people involved in Family Court cases after finding 18 suspected suicides by people involved in the court in the 13 months to June. Principal Family Court Judge Peter Boshier, in a speech to be delivered in Blenheim this morning, also proposes a new specialist agency to refer victims and offenders in domestic violence cases to counselling and to chase up offenders who drop out of programmes. “A radical rethink is required in the delivery of both prevention and intervention in domestic violence,” he said. He identified 22 people involved in Family Court cases who died between May 2008 and June this year as a result of either suicide or homicide. “Of these 18 (82 per cent) were suspected suicides, and 41 per cent of the deceased had been, either directly or indirectly, involved in domestic violence proceedings,” he said. Three-quarters were also involved in court battles over care of children. He said New Zealand should learn from an Australian system where court staff are trained to identify possible mental health issues during separation and refer people to counselling services.

..Judge Boshier repeated criticisms he made in February of programmes for domestic violence offenders. He said then that one-off acts in situations such as a marriage breakup should not be treated the same as “continuous or systematic” violence. Only half of all offenders completed programmes, and he called for a new specialist agency to refer and monitor offenders and victims on counselling programmes. “I consider that part of the explanation for this low completion rate is the fact that courts are in the business of hearing cases and making judicial determinations, but are not in the business of providing long-term social oversight of offenders’ rehabilitation,” he said.