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Govt proposes new initiatives for the Family Court

Government proposes new initiatives for the Family Court

The Government has announced proposals for three new initiatives in the Family Court to streamline the process of helping families resolve disputes, Courts Minister Rick Barker said today.

“A pilot of non-judge led mediation, a public information strategy and comprehensive training for Family Court staff are proposed by the Government in response to the Law Commission report on dispute resolution in the Family Court.”

The Law Commission has affirmed that the New Zealand Family Court is a world leader in its field and Mr Barker said the Government’s response to the report on dispute resolution seeks to strengthen that position.

“New Zealanders are well served by a dedicated Family Court, with specialist judges who deal with all matters relating to family disputes.

“The Government’s proposals are far better than the alternative of hearing family matters in a general court in between criminal and civil matters.”

Mr Barker said the overall goal of the Family Court was to provide conciliation services to encourage families to resolve disputes themselves, without needing to go to a defended hearing, which can be a lengthy and costly process.

“The Law Commission’s report recognises the Family Court as a valuable institution providing a useful service to families in distress.

“Many of the report’s recommendations will be addressed by these proposals or are incorporated in work underway. Others will be considered in future planning by the Ministry of Justice.”

Changes inspired by the report are part of ongoing efforts to ensure that New Zealanders benefit from an improved justice system.

A public information strategy will aim to heighten awareness about how the Family Court works and the principles upon which it makes decisions.

“The strategy will be sensitive to the needs of all court users, with a focus on Maori and Pacific peoples, recent migrants, refugees and people with disabilities,” Mr Barker said. The proposal to pilot non-judge led mediation, using qualified mediators, will provide another opportunity for dispute resolution without judicial intervention.

An integrated staff training programme will increase efficiency and improve workload management in the Family Court. Staff training will include an emphasis on enhancing cultural responsiveness.

Subject to funding, it is hoped that work on these initiatives will commence in the 2004/5 financial year.

Mr Barker said the average New Zealander is more likely to have contact with the Family Court than any other court.

“People normally come to the Family Court in a time of crisis, so it is particularly important that the process has no undue delays and is flexible enough to respond to the very diverse individual and cultural needs of court users.

“It is my intention to work carefully through the Commission’s report and examine every recommendation with a view to implementing, where appropriate, the administrative change or legislating where necessary.

“I am determined to ensure that New Zealand is well served by an efficient Family Court.

The Law Commission’s report is available at www.lawcom.govt.nz

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