Second round of consultation open on family justice reforms

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The Independent Panel reviewing the 2014 Family Court reforms is running a second round of consultation. This consultation invites feedback on the Panel's suggested changes to the family justice system.

The deadline to submit feedback is 1 March 2019.

In their case for change in the consultation document, the Panel writes:

"There are issues which are undermining the effectiveness of the Family Court and related services for separating parents and families in conflict. The critical aspects include;

    • some elements of the 2014 reforms
    • administrative and operational changes made by the Ministry of Justice over time
    • increasingly complicated cases that involve family violence, drug use, poverty, mental health issues and the changing nature of family structures and relationships.

The review has exposed a system that is siloed, and which has even greater delays than occurred before 2014.

The Family Court and related services display a number of systemic issues. Some are a feature of the wider justice system, others reflect challenges within New Zealand society generally.

The critical issues include:

    • damaging delays
    • limited participation of children in the issues that affect them and no certainty that their voices are heard
    • monocultural services, processes and procedures
    • failure to recognise Te Ao Maori or incorporate tikanga Maori in procedures and processes
    • a general lack of responsiveness to diversity
    • no systematic accommodation of disabilities
    • a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model that is not flexible and not sufficiently responsive to the diversity and increasing complexity of families
    • concern about how the Family Court and related services deal with family violence and its effect on children and families
    • lack of accessible, quality information."

The Panel is proposing to bring together the Family Court and a range of services into a new structure called the Family Justice Service.

They are asking for feedback on a number of proposed changes. These changes and specific questions are outlined in the consultation document. The document is available on the Ministry of Justice website in English, Te Reo Māori and Easy Read. The Panel has also produced a questions and answers document.

The consultation document outlines proposals and 40 questions which cover a number of areas including:

  • "Focus on children 
  • Te Ao Māori in the Family Court 
  • Quality, accessible information 
  • Counselling and therapeutic intervention 
  • Parenting Through Separation 
  • Family Dispute Resolution 
  • Legal advice and representation 
  • Case tracks and conferences 
  • Without notice applications 
  • Triaging 
  • Complex cases 
  • Cultural information in court 
  • A 'new' role – Family Justice Service Coordinator 
  • A 'new' role – senior Family Court registrar 
  • Lawyer for Child 
  • Psychological reports 
  • Costs"

Under Focus on children, the Panel's proposals are:

  • "consideration be given to whether the checklist in the former section 61 of the Care of Children Act 2004 should be part of the safety assessment process. If included, the checklist should be reviewed to make sure it captures all parts of a child’s safety
  • more information should be available at an early stage when the court is considering safety issues, for example, from the criminal courts and Police
  • consideration be given to whether to have specialist family violence support workers in the Family Court similar to victim support that is available in the District Court
  • on encouraging children’s participation, further work should be undertaken that Draws on the research already available in this area. This may include a trial programme to assess which child-inclusive models work best in a New Zealand context." (p.11)

Under Lawyer for Child, the proposals are:

  • "new criteria be introduced for the appointment of lawyer for the child, to make sure each child’s needs are met by the most suitable lawyer (focussing on personality, cultural background, training and experience, suitability of their qualification)
  • information given to parties and children about the role, obligations and limitations of lawyer for the child be improved
  • lawyer for the child training, professional development and supervision requirements be regularly reviewed and strengthened
  • the list of approved lawyers for the child be regularly reviewed and updated
  • remuneration rates for lawyer for the child be reviewed." (p.36)

Family violence is also briefly mentioned under Complex cases. Proposals are:

  • "all applications are triaged by the Family Justice Service Coordinator, to identify complex cases at the earliest opportunity
  • judges are given more powers to direct parties to time-limited and focused therapeutic intervention
  • individual judges undertake case management." (p.29)

All proposals and questions posed by the Panel are detailed in the paper.

The Panel completed a first round of consultation in November 2018. The Panel has published a summary of feedback and submissions from that consultation. They have also released submissions from agencies that gave approval. See the Ministry of Justice website for the documents.

You can give feedback by:

For questions email FamilyJusticeReforms@justice.govt.nz.

The Panel is due to submit their final report and recommendations to the Minister of Justice in May 2019.

Related research

To help inform submissions, NZFVC published Reading guide for the family justice system review: a selected bibliography (2018).

Parenting Arrangements After Separation Study: Evaluating the 2014 New Zealand Family Law Reforms is currently being conducted by the Faculty of Law and the Children’s Issues Centre at the University of Otago, funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation. (The study is still open for input from parents/caregivers and professionals.) The researchers shared initial findings with the Panel and will provide a further update to help inform the Panel's final report.

Update: Ngā Pae o te Māramatanga has published Care and Protection of Tamariki Māori in the Family Court System (2019) as part of a series of think piece papers.

Background information

See our previous story Consultation open on family court review (September 2018)

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