Family Court law must be urgently changed, that’s the finding of a review on 2014 justice system reforms made under the previous Government released today.
But the independent panel says reducing delays and restoring confidence in the system will also require a new service.
The Panel considers that the Family Court and related services should work in a joined-up way that is accessible and responsive to families’ different needs.
“We are recommending development of a joined-up Family Justice Service, Te Korowai Tureā-Whānau, made up of the Ministry of Justice, Family Court, Parenting Through Separation (PTS) & Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) providers, lawyers, iwi and kaupapa Māori organisations, social services and community agencies,” says Rosslyn Noonan, chairperson of the Independent Panel.
“The Korowai provides a variety of ways for people to access the right family justice service at the right time for them.
“Each component is independent. What is different is that they come together on a regular basis nationally and locally to share knowledge, experience and professional development and interact with each other to better serve children, parents and whanau,” she says.
The Panel’s report makes a raft of recommendations which focus on motivating people to engage with effective services like FDR and aim to reserve the Family Court for the cases that need it most.
These recommendations include, among many others, introducing targeted counselling to separating couples, offering fully funded FDR to all parents and caregivers, and ensuring access to legal representation for all Care of Children proceedings.
Justice Minister Andrew Little said he has welcomed the report.
“It’s clear that the National Party’s 2014 reforms haven’t worked as intended. The recommendations provided by this report are extensive and require a meaningful response from the Government in due course,” he said.
He said the National Party’s 2014 reforms made significant changes to the family justice system, including introducing Family Dispute Resolution and removing lawyers from the early stages of some Family Court proceedings.
“These changes were meant to make things easier for families at a difficult time, but they have had the opposite effect. Cases are taking longer to resolve and many family members involved in the court processes say they are not well-supported.
“I am also keen to give close consideration to the recommendations about the need for more culturally sensitive approaches,” said Mr Little.
The Panel was appointed in August 2018 by the Minister of Justice, because of concerns raised about the system designed to help parents and whānau in dispute about the care of their children, following substantial reforms in 2014.