The New Zealand Law Society would urge the Government to adopt all 70 recommendations for change to the family justice system.
The Independent Panel considering the 2014 family justice reforms has released its findings to the Minister of Justice.
“We strongly believe that if the government adopts the recommendations as a package, this will have an immediate beneficial impact for all families who need access to family justice services. It is also pleasing to see some of the recommendations are directed at making the family justice system more responsive and appropriate for Māori,” says the New Zealand Law Society’s Family Law Section deputy chair, Caroline Hickman.
One of the key recommendations is the development of a joined-up family justice service, Te Korowai Ture ā-Whānau, made up of the Ministry of Justice, Family Court, Parenting Through Separation (PTS) and Family Dispute Resolution (FDR) providers, lawyers, iwi and kaupapa Māori organisations, social services and community agencies.
She says almost all of the recommendations made in submissions by the Family Law Section appear to have been adopted by the Independent Panel such as increasing resources to the Family Court.
“The appointment of more Family Court Judges and the establishment of the roles of senior family court registrars and family justice service coordinators will go a long was to reduce the significant current delays in the Family Court,” she says.
Other aspects include allowing greater cultural diversity among judicial appointments, reinstating free counselling sessions and making FDR (Family Dispute Resolution) free and voluntary unless judge-directed.
“Counselling and mediation are vital to assist parents to resolve disputes without the need to access the Family Court. Reinstating counselling and making FDR free, voluntary and more accessible will greatly assist families to work through parenting disputes and enable more matters to be settled,” Caroline Hickman says.
She says the recommendation for the Ministry of Justice to undertake urgent research in respect of children’s participation and counselling is also a significant and positive step.
“We have been advocating for the need for children to have access to free counselling for a long time and it is great to see this is finally gaining some traction,” Caroline Hickman says.
The Law Society says the Family Court deals with cases that touch the lives of more New Zealanders than any other court. It looks forward to working with all stakeholders and believes the robust recommendations made by the panel will address the detrimental impact of the 2014 changes to the family justice system.