A formal co-operation agreement between the Law Foundation and the Ministry of Justice is starting to produce tangible results.
Late last year the Foundation and the ministry’s policy group signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a closer working relationship for their mutual benefit.
The agreement includes provision for both organisations to assist each other on research projects by, for example, sourcing government information, peer reviewing research, providing advice, identifying expertise and sharing information about topical legal research priorities.
The practical impact of this agreement has been highlighted through a Foundation-funded project evaluating the Government’s family law reforms.
The reforms focused primarily on shifting resolution of family disputes towards out-of-court mediation. When launched, they were described by then Justice Minister Judith Collins as the most significant change to the family justice system since the Family Court was established in 1981.
The evaluation project commenced recently. University of Otago Law Faculty researchers are scoping a project to assess whether the reforms are achieving their aims and objectives, and will examine their impact on families and professional practices.
The project was initiated by Otago, with Foundation support, though clearly the Government also has a strong interest in understanding how the reforms are bedding in – bringing our Memorandum of Understanding into play.
I asked the Otago researchers to explore working with the ministry on scoping and developing its research strategy, and our new association with the ministry made this possible. As a result, both parties have agreed to work in partnership, including consulting key agencies together and sharing information that is essential to the evaluation process.
I see this as an exciting initial example of how the Foundation and the ministry can leverage real value from working together.
The Foundation occupies a unique niche, being the only truly independent funder of socio-legal research in New Zealand.
We decide what projects we will support, independent of political or commercial interest – but we are also very keen to work closely with government whenever doing so helps ensure our project outcomes have the best possible chance of supporting good public policy.
Frank McLaughlin, Deputy Secretary Policy for the Ministry of Justice, agrees that the relationship is a valuable one. “Research is crucial to the policy process, but research dollars are scarce. Working together gives us a better chance of getting the research we need for rigorous evaluation and evidence-based policy.”
The Law Foundation is very excited about its new relationship with the ministry and I look forward to even higher quality legal research benefiting New Zealand as a result.
Family law reform evaluation project
An Otago University Law Faculty research team is scoping a project to evaluate the impact of the Government’s family law reforms that took effect in March this year.
The team includes Law Faculty Dean Professor Mark Henaghan, Associate Law Professor Nicola Taylor, and Megan Gollop of the Children’s Issues Centre at Otago.
The evaluation will draw on learnings from Australia and England/Wales where similar changes to family dispute resolution procedures have been in place longer than New Zealand’s.
The first research phase, until December this year, involves scoping and developing the research strategy and methods. This includes literature review, data collection, and consultation with experts and stakeholders, including at a workshop in Wellington in October. The second phase, involving empirical research, is intended to start in 2015.
The New Zealand Law Foundation is providing funding of $57,000 for Phase One of the Otago University family law reform evaluation project.
Lynda Hagen is the Executive Director of the New Zealand Law Foundation.