Law Society releases Family Court review submission

Concerns about the costs of sustaining the Family Court can be addressed in a way which enables the Court to continue to be functional and effective, the New Zealand Law Society says.

However, it is important that there is targeted rather than substantive legislative change, with the essential features of the Family Court retained, the Law Society says in its submission on the Family Court Review.

Family Law Section chair Antony Mahon says the Law Society recognises that cost cutting was at the heart of the review.

“Our whole focus has been on recognising that any funding reductions must be carried out in way that maintains access to justice and the need to provide that in a cost-effective manner.”

Mr Mahon says the Law Society firmly believes that substantial charges to the Family Court are not appropriate. Instead, with some targeted legislative amendments to reduce fiscal costs, the Family Court should remain significantly unchanged.

“We have identified changes which will achieve both significant fiscal savings and improve the practice of all professionals who work in and with the Family Court,” he says.

“More rigorous adherence and refinements to the systems and procedures already in place, and a change in the way the Court’s Registry is resourced will let the Family Court fulfil the purpose for which it was established in a fiscally sustainable manner.”

The Law Society feels that a number of the issues identified in the discussion document at the heart of the review could be managed through development of an effective assessment system.

Mr Mahon saus this would divert away from formal Court processes those matters which could be resolved in some other way.

“This would ensure that meritorious and genuine claims are heard more quickly and are resolved earlier.”

He says the Law Society is still concerned that the review’s single-minded focus on cutting expenditure on the Family Court system means it fails to recognise the legal rights of all New Zealanders and their access to justice.

“Eliminating or reducing the chances to resolve family-based disputes is likely to have a negative social impact. We strongly believe that effective reform might need some up-front investment to achieve durable cost savings in the future. Achieving a prompt, efficient and effective resolution to Family Court proceedings must not be at the cost of a fair and just outcome.”