A significant reduction in delay in the Family Court could be achieved by implementing a number of measures, the New Zealand Law Society says.
Details of the measures are provided by the Law Society in additional feedback to the Independent Panel examining the impact of the 2014 family justice reforms.
The Law Society's latest submission says it remains hopeful that the current review will lead to design changes that deliver sustainable access to justice for the many New Zealanders who need support in resolving their family disputes.
Considering the issues around judicial resourcing and delay, the Law Society says it is imperative that more judicial hearing time is available in the Family Court, including the allocation of more judicial resource. It supports the proposal for establishment of a new role of Senior Family Court Registrar (SFCR).
"The combination of both increased judicial resourcing and the new SFCR role would have a significant impact on reducing delay so that matters are able to be heard in a timelier way. If more judicial time is not available, we believe that other proposed changes will not be sufficient on their own, or collectively, to reduce the significant delay currently experienced in the Family Court."
Delay is one of the most significant problems facing the Family Court, and this is one of the reasons there has been a dramatic increase in without notice applications since the 2014 changes, the submission says.
"It is essential that more judicial hearing time is made available ... to reduce the delays. That is a critical factor; without it, the other proposed changes will not be adequate to make any substantial improvement."
The Law Society says delay should also be addressed by establishing an effective and efficient triage system, streamlining the process with fewer court events, and allowing parties to have legal representation at all stages in proceedings (including pre-proceedings).
"If these issues were immediately addressed, we believe this would result in a significant reduction in delay and substantially reduce the number of without notice applications."
An effective triage system would identify and enable the most appropriate response available for parties seeking assistance to resolve parenting and guardianship disputes. The Law Society says establishment of a new Family Justice Sector Coordinator is a positive proposal and such a role will be key in triaging matters either to an out-of-court or in-court process.
To streamline the process with fewer court events, the Law Society says cases should be limited to four key court events unless circumstances require otherwise.
"Files should be allocated to an individual case manager at an early stage to ensure matters are dealt with and cases are progressed to ensure that judicial sitting time is only used when matters are ready to proceed."
Complex cases need to be defined to they can be identified early and triaged appropriately. The submission says complex cases need early and effective intervention and should be case managed by an individual judge, with assistance from an SFCR and case manager.
Another factor in securing positive changes would be the establishment of a robust IT platform which enables nationwide electronic filing for the Family Court. This would have significant cost savings and efficiences for the family justice system, the Law Society says, noting that it is "well overdue".
"The increased use of technology, such as Audio-Visual Links (AVL) and teleconferencing would provide significant cost savings and efficiencies in the family justice system."