What do the family courts do in vaccination cases?

Peter Williams 04/07/2019

Auckland parents who cannot agree on whether their daughter should be vaccinated have taken the fight to court. 

The girl, who is about to start school, was not immunised. Her father wanted her vaccinated in line with Ministry of Health and World Health Organisation recommendations.

Family lawyer John Douglas speaks to Peter Williams about how the courts work and what process they go through in a case like this.

Peter first asks if there is nay precedent in the courts for the case that is being heard to which John describes "it's a guardianship decision between two parents, they are guardians and they are supposed to agree on health matters."

Where parents can't agree the court can decide what is in the best interest of the child.


Peter wanted to know if vaccination disputes had come before the courts previously and what decisions were made there. John responds, 'I can't say whether a decision had been made before but certainly there have been a number of cases. 

They don't usually go through to a hearing.

The court is bound to follow health department guidelines which support vaccinations, unless there are particular circumstances like proving the child has an allergy". He goes on to describe similar disputes that have come before the courts. 

There have been parallels with children with cancer needing chemotherapy and parents refusing.

There are also guardianship disputes of home schooling versus the state school system.

"Family courts often have to decide guardianship disputes and in the absence of strong evidence on either argument the court will follow government policy."

You can listen to the full interview above.