Implementing three key changes would have an immediate positive effect on the Family Court, the New Zealand Law Society says.
The Law Society has released a comprehensive submission on the 2014 family justice reforms to the Independent Panel which is examining and evaluating their impact.
“The Family Court deals with cases that touch on most aspect of New Zealanders’ lives. We believe that the changes made in 2014 have had a detrimental impact on the Court and the parents and children seeking its assistance,” the chair of the Law Society’s Family Law Section, Kirsty Swadling, says.
Ms Swadling says the Law Society believes there would be an immediate beneficial impact if there were changes in three areas.
“First, making the Family Court responsible again for pre-court processes, reinstating a limited number of counselling sessions and making the Family Dispute Resolution service free, voluntary and more accessible.
“Parents must be allowed to have lawyers represent them in all matters relating to parenting and guardianship disputes at all stages if they wish. The availability of legal aid needs to be increased.
“And thirdly, it is important that a robust triage and case management system is implemented. The tracks process should be stopped and the number of court events reduced.
“Looking forwards, it is very important to stress that whatever solutions emerge from the Independent Panel will only work if there is adequate resourcing of the whole family justice system.
“This includes attention to judicial hearing time, registry staff, social workers, legal aid providers, court-appointed lawyers and mediators. We cannot provide an effective means of resolving family disputes on a shoestring. This is all about access to justice and any reforms or changes which result will only succeed if we accept the need to make a realistic commitment and investment to achieve a family justice system which works for all New Zealanders.”