A controversial Family Court decision over a ‘reverse uplift’ of a Māori child from Pākehā foster parents is now headed to the High Court

A mother denied by the Family Court the removal of a child from foster care arranged by Oranga Tamariki is appealing the decision to the High Court, arguing evidence against the foster parents was ignored and challenging a judge’s decision not to recuse himself from the case.

The appeal, filed by the woman’s lawyer Janet Mason, says Family Court Judge Peter Callinicos did not consider evidence that cast the Pākehā foster parents in a negative light and that further evidence was mischaracterised, including in a psychologist’s report, to justify the child being with non-Māori, non-kin caregivers.

Oranga Tamariki (taking the same position as the mother) had sought to change the care arrangement in line with its latest policy and place the child with the same caregivers who also have the child’s sibling. These caregivers and the siblings whakapapa to the same iwi.

Judge Callinicos had rejected arguments from Oranga Tamariki and Mason’s client that the child should be returned from the foster parents to OT’s care, and had been himself criticised for ‘bullying’ Oranga Tamariki social workers in the witness stand during the case. He advised parties to the case that he had received approaches from the then Oranga Tamariki chief executive’s office to meet while the case was underway. A request from Mason that he recuse himself from the case was considered by the judge but declined.

Judge Peter Callinicos

The heads of bench of both the Family Court and District Court had sought to discuss Judge Callinicos’ conduct over the case but the judge had declined, citing judicial independence during a case. Subsequently complaints have been lodged with the Judicial Conduct Commissioner over the actions of all three judges.

The appeal filed at the High Court at Napier says the decision not to return the children was biased. “Its central proposition was that the OT social workers had all been involved in an elaborate and mischievous plan to transfer [one child] to the [kin], without telling the [foster parents]. Accordingly, all of the evidence of the OT social workers was considered to be tainted, and all of it was rejected outright by the judge.”

Mason argues the judge’s decision not to recuse himself after the complaint about his handling of the social worker witnesses was wrong in law.

Her client wants the Family Court decision overturned and an order in favour of Oranga Tamariki (and the iwi carers) as day-to-day caregivers reinstated. The appeal asks that the mother, her other children and the foster parents also be given “appropriate access”

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