New Zealand Law Society has continuing concerns with Family Court bill

The Justice and Electoral Select Committee’s report to the House on the Family Court Proceedings Reform Bill fails to clarify court processes and rules, says the New Zealand Law Society. 

The Family Court bill was released on Tuesday with a number of amendments, but the Law Society says there are continuing concerns.

Justice Minister Judith Collins says the reforms will “clarify the court’s processes and rules, providing greater certainty for users, and making it easier for them to understand and navigate the court system”.

Law Society Family Law Section chair Garry Collin says, however, that the changes will mean the pre-court Family Disputes Resolution process and changes to the Family Court processes will create a more complex system than we currently have.

He says it will be extremely difficult for ordinary New Zealanders to navigate. 

“Under the current system one point of entry provides access to counselling, mediation, Lawyer for the Child, and to the Court. The new system is a complex maze of procedures with different entry points, criteria and exemptions. Hopefully new forms and amendments to the Family Courts Rules will make the court processes easier to navigate but I have my doubts,” Mr Collin says.

The Law Society is concerned that the bill still removes the right of a party to choose to be legally represented in all Family Court processes.

“New Zealand stands almost alone in limiting access to legal assistance in Family Court processes,” Mr Collins says.

He says if the changes are implemented, as proposed in the report, it will not create an efficient and effective Family Court system, as the bill leaves vulnerable parties without support when they need it most.

“The system will be more expensive and Family Court Registries are not staffed sufficiently to cope with the increased workloads.”

The Law Society has real concerns about the ability of court staff to provide services to the vast influx of self-represented litigants that the legislation will create.

“The Law Society will continue to work with Ministry of Justice with the hope of creating an accessible family justice system, which is truly responsive to children and vulnerable people,” Mr Collin says.