New Zealand Law Society - Independent Panel to examine 2014 Family Court changes

Independent Panel to examine 2014 Family Court changes

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Justice Minister Andrew Little has announced the appointment of an Independent Panel to examine changes made to the family justice system in 2014.

Mr Little says the Panel will consist of former Chief Human Rights Commissioner Rosslyn Noonan as chair, Kaitaia family lawyer La Verne King and Wellington family lawyer Chris Dellabarca. They will be supported by an expert reference group.

“The 2014 changes were meant to help people resolve parenting disputes without having to go to court, but have in fact led to the opposite as there’s been a huge increase in the number of urgent ‘without notice’ applications which have to be put before a Family Court judge," Mr Little says.

“I am concerned that families and children are losing out as a result of not receiving adequate advice and support during this distressing time. The last Government removed access to lawyers in many cases and I’m concerned about how this and the other changes have impacted on access to justice."

Mr Little says the expert reference group will also play an important role, giving Panel access to people with expertise across a range of disciplines, including law, mediation, child psychology, kaupapa Māori and family violence to ensure its findings reflect current research and best practice.

“I’ve directed the Panel to take a human rights approach when considering improvements to ensure that welfare and best interests of the children are paramount when settling disputes about their care," he says.

“A human rights approach will ensure everyone’s perspectives are considered, including survivors of family violence, and men who say they’re not being given the opportunity to do some of the parenting when relationships end. Talking with children who have experienced the Family Court system will also be vital for establishing how the system can work better for those who need it most."

Mr Little has released the terms of reference for the panel and says it is finalising its consultation plan. The terms of reference require the Panel to report by May 2019.

The New Zealand Law Society has welcomed appointment of the Panel and the review.