New Bill, research and updates related to Family Courts
Mon 24 Aug 2020
We have collated various updates related to Family Courts in the news article below.
The Government introduced the Family Court (Supporting Children in Court) Legislation Bill on 6 August 2020. This is an omnibus bill that would amend the Care of Children Act 2004 and the Family Dispute Resolution Act 2013.
Minister of Justice Andrew Little said the Bill arises from the final report of the Independent Panel examining the 2014 family justice reforms, Te Korowai Ture ā-Whānau (2019). This is the second Bill which is part of the legislative work related to changes to the family justice system. The other, the Family Court (Supporting Families in Court) Legislation Bill, was introduced on 14 May 2020 under urgency and received Royal Assent on 15 May 2020.
The Government also announced $50 million of funding from the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund to address impacts from COVID-19 on the Courts. The funding provides for five District Court judges, four acting High Court judges, one acting Associate judge and around 40 fulltime support staff. It also provides further resource for Oranga Tamariki - Ministry for Children to address an increase in care and protection of children applications.
Professor Nicola Taylor and Dr Megan Gollop from the University of Otago have published Parenting arrangements after separation study: Evaluating the 2014 family law reforms: Parents' and caregivers' perspectives - Part 2. (Part 1 was published in 2019.)
Dr Amohia Boulton, Maia Wikaira, Lynley Cvitanovic and Tania Williams Blyth have published new research sharing findings and recommendations from a survey of whānau about their experiences with care and protection issues in Family Court under the Oranga Tamariki Act 1989. See our separate News article on the report, Te Taniwha I Te Ao Ture-ā-Whānau: Whānau Experience of Care and Protection in the Family Court (2020).
Family Court reforms are also underway in Australia and the United Kingdom.
In the UK, legislation and pilot reforms include Judges having the ability to intervene in cases of domestic violence to prevent the complainant from being re-victimised by aggressive lines of questioning and additional powers for judges to use investigative or inquisitorial rather than adversarial approaches. The reforms have been informed by an extensive consultation. The final report is available, Assessing risk of harm to children and parents in private law children cases (2020), as well as a literature review and an implementation plan.
The Guardian reported that Nicki Norman, acting CEO of Women’s Aid, said:
“This report marks a major step forward in exposing what women and children experiencing domestic abuse have been telling us for decades. The culture of disbelief identified by the panel is a barrier to courts making safe child contact arrangements in cases of domestic abuse. The result is that, all too often, survivors and their children experience the family courts as failing to effectively protect them.”
In Australia, the Government has provided $13.5 million to fund a risk screening and triage pilot in several regional Family Courts of Australia and the Federal Circuit Court of Australia. This pilot is part of the Lighthouse Project looking at risk screening, triage and case management, and specialist list.