Family Court system will stand up to review

New Zealand has a unique and successful Family Court system which will stand up to the review announced yesterday, provided the focus is on more than wholesale cost-cutting, the New Zealand Law Society’s Family Law Section says.

The Section’s Deputy Chair, Caroline Hannan, says many New Zealanders do not realise that our specialist Family Court system is highly respected and the model had been copied around the world.

“The review seems to be driven by a perceived need to cut costs and reduce delays in some of the Court’s processes. The review process should provide information on whether such a need actually exists,” she says.

“The way the Court works and its social and financial efficacy have been closely monitored since its inception. In some ways it is timely that the latest review will come as the Family Court celebrates its 30th anniversary – provided there is sufficient time to examine the major issues.

“Cabinet has included in the review terms of reference. The short timeframe for completion of the process suggests there is little opportunity for a proper inquiry to take place.”

Ms Hannan says there are several key aspects of the role of the Family Court which are important to balance against the “stroke of a pen” approach to cost cutting that the government appears to envisage.

“The Family Court responds to genuine need, not desire or whim. Families who are involved in the disputes in the court need to have those disputes resolved. There is also a genuine benefit to our society in the Family Court processes for resolution. If we don’t put those resources in now, we will pay for it later.”

Ms Hannan says that it is also important to appreciate the wide variety of participants in Family Court processes. It is not just families, lawyers and judges.

“This will be seen in a special Symposium which the Society’s Family Law Section has organised after discussion with Justice Minister Simon Power. It will provide a forum for an informed discussion with all relevant stakeholders on the Family Court, its role and processes, and will be held at Parliament on 3 June, with the Minister in attendance for some of that time.” 

Ms Hannan says participants will include members of the judiciary, psychologists, mediators, counsellors, community law centres and family lawyers.

“The goal is not about preservation of the current Family Court processes, but the preservation of an effective means for resolution of family disputes within a specialist court,” she says.

“By bringing everyone together in a collaborative environment and under Chatham House Rules, the Society’s Family Law Section hopes to look at areas of current concern – including those outlined by Mr Power - and then focus on possible solutions and options.”