Limitoo News

Trial of protection order service ends, Women's Refuge 'unconvinced' it was necessary

Dr Ang Jury CEO of Women's Refuge
Ang Jury says Women's Refuge can still help people apply for a protection order. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

A government-commissioned pilot service which would have given Women's Refuge the ability to apply for protection orders on someone's behalf was quietly wound down without a single client accepted.

Women's Refuge says it was not because it was poorly delivered, but because it was ultimately unnecessary.

In December 2020, the National Collective of Independent Women's Refuge (NCIWR) was contracted by the Ministry of Justice to develop and trial the service.

It would have allowed them to make the application if someone was too fearful to do so, or was physically incapacitated.

It was part of the changes to the Family Violence Act, which were started by the previous National government and passed by the Labour-led government in 2018.

The protection order service was intended "to add an extra layer of protection," as NCIWR would have been able to provide ongoing support to the client.

It officially launched in June 2021 but in May 2022, NCIWR said it did not wish to renew the contract.

A "lessons learned" document, released to the National Party under the Official Information Act, showed in that time, no clients were accepted into the service.

It stated the referral criteria was confusing, and "it wasn't always clear who would fit into this service, as opposed to other supports available for victims of family violence". While two clients were referred to the service, they did not meet the criteria.

The document said police, Age Concern, NCIWR, and the domestic violence support organisation Shakti were all involved in the service's development, but "it was felt that there was a lack of clarity around the intent of the service, and how it would keep people safe".

Women's Refuge chief executive Ang Jury said it was ultimately a solution looking for a problem.

"We remain unconvinced that it's actually necessary. The mechanisms are already there for protection orders. Providing a protection order if someone is so frightened that they can't get it themselves is incredibly unsafe, because they won't be able to use it anyway if they're so afraid."

Women's Refuge could still help someone apply for a protection order, she said.

"In all of the thinking and working that we did around that, it was very difficult actually to come up with a scenario that was safe. And that wasn't already served."

National's justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith said the intentions were noble but ultimately it was poorly implemented.

"Time and time again we've seen announcements made or projects started, but with poor follow-through," Goldsmith said.

Goldsmith took aim at the government, saying it had failed to deliver victims the help it promised.

"I'm all for experimentation and innovation and having a go, and sometimes things don't work out. But to have zero people picked up by any programme seems to me to be a bit weak," he said.

But Jury rejected such an accusation.

"I would strongly reject that. Absolutely and utterly reject that. The ministry was presented with legislation that they had to put into practice. They put it into practice, it wasn't needed. End of story."

The cost of the service "wasn't even in the six figures", she said.

In a statement, Ministry of Justice chief operating officer Carl Crafar said the ministry anticipated only a small number of clients would meet the specific referral criteria.

"The service was intended for people with extremely high needs who were unable to apply for a protection order, even with support. This service was to be an additional avenue of support, supplementing the existing resources available when seeking a protection order," Crafar said.

If a need for a similar service was identified in the future, the ministry would use what it learned from the process, he said. It had also made the application forms for protection orders clearer and easier for people to use.