New Zealand Law Society - Panel suggests family justice system changes

Panel suggests family justice system changes

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The Independent Panel considering the 2014 family justice system reforms has made a number of suggestions for change and has opened another round of consultation.

Panel Chair Rosslyn Noonan says the Panel wants to hear from the people who submitted to it the first time round between September and November 2018, from people who work in family justice services, and people who have used those services.

“We are open to the suggestions being challenged and there are a number of issues we are still considering. It’s therefore essential that we hear from people with a wide range of experiences across the family justice system. The final report will be strengthened by the responses we receive.”

Ms Noonan says 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 envisage a network that brings together the Family Court and a range of services. This Family Justice Service, would form a korowai, a cloak for separating parents, caregivers, and whānau who need help making decisions about their children.

“The Service must be visible, informative, accessible, responsive, and cohesive. It should encourage and support people to agree on decisions about their children and mokopuna at the earliest time and in the least adversarial way. The Panel agrees it is in the best interests of children if arrangements for their care and decisions about them can be decided without having to go to court, which is inherently adversarial”.

The Panel has released information which summarises its proposals for changes. Some of the specific proposals are:

  • Making targeted counselling available.
  • Allowing people involved in care of children disputes unrestricted representation by a lawyer.
  • Allowing people to make an application to the Family Court at any time and without pre-conditions.
  • Establishing an effective triaging system when applications are filed in court, so cases needing urgent judicial attention are referred directly to a judge for directions.
  • Introducing new roles to improve how the court deals with applications, and to support joined-up family justice services.

The Panel says it is also working on proposals which would ensure:

  • Recognition of Te Ao Māori and integration of tikanga Māori in family justice services.
  • Systematic accommodation of people with disabilities.
  • Children can take part in a meaningful way and that their voices are heard.
  • Strengthening children's safety and the way family violence is dealt with.

Submissions on the proposals for change close on 1 March 2019. The Panel says it will be submitting its final report to Justice Minister Andrew Little in May 2019.

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