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Law Commission reports on Family Court

Law Commission reports on Family Court

The Law Commission has completed its report on the resolution of Family Court disputes.

The report will be tabled in parliament on today, and the Government will respond formally within six months.

Courts Minister Margaret Wilson has welcomed the report as the first independent, comprehensive and detailed look at the workings of the Family Court since the court’s establishment in 1981.

It concludes that the Family Court provides a good service and identifies particular areas that can be improved.

Margaret Wilson thanks the Commission for its measured analysis and says the report will assist the Government in its ongoing efforts to ensure that New Zealanders have a first-rate justice system.

“More people have contact with the Family Court than any other court in the judicial system, and that contact usually comes at already stressful and upsetting times. It is imperative that the system offers families a forum for conciliation and mediation, and that any necessary interventions are fair and timely,” Margaret Wilson says.

The Government, which commissioned the report, acknowledges the extensive consultation undertaken during the report’s preparation, including the release of a discussion document and public submissions last year, which helped to stimulate debate and tested whether common criticisms of the Family Court proceedings were justified.

In particular, a negative perception has been that the Family Court displays ‘pro-feminist, anti-male’ bias in its processes and application of Law. In its report, the Law Commission finds that accusations of bias are often made when clients do not get the decisions they want, and when processes are protected from pubic scrutiny. It says greater accountability and transparency will build public confidence.

While the Commission does not advocate doing away with Family Court privacy, it urges the adoption of more transparent procedures. Giving clients and the public non-identifying information about the Court’s work would reduce the secrecy surrounding family proceedings.

The Law Commission will deal with this topic more comprehensively in its upcoming report dealing with the structure of the courts.

However, Margaret Wilson says the report on Family Court dispute resolution identifies several key issues and areas for improvement, and makes 135 specific suggestions.

Margaret Wilson says these will be carefully considered, but she is pleased the report confirms the Government is on track with a number of initiatives aimed at improving the Family Court service. In particular:

The Courts Department is already engaged in an extensive modernisation programme, which covers improved case management, a capital works programme for upgrading facilities, and the improved renumeration and training for staff.

The proposed Care of Children Bill dovetails with several of the Law Commission’s recommendations and provides for better participation of children and their extended families in Family Court proceedings and improved availability of judgments made under the new Act.

Margaret Wilson said the Law Commission is due to complete its review of the structure of the courts later this year, and this will undoubtedly also touch on the Family Court and provide a wider context for the present report.

“Together the reports will provide both ‘big picture’ and detailed analysis, based on quality information, to inform Government decisions on what policy or legislative changes will benefit New Zealanders.”

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