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Family Law Section Executive Committee - Rotorua

Hon. Rick Barker
Family Law Section Executive Committee - dinner Rotorua

There is a real mood of willingness for the Family Court system to be brought into the 21st Century. As family changes involve step parents and children, single parents and extended family - the role of the family court changes.

The government is listening to what practitioners envisage for the court. We talk about wanting more openness, but at the same time we must be confident that families won't get caught up in a media circus and lose their privacy.

Generally for people to need a family court, things are not going so well in their lives, so everyone involved is dealing with many different emotions.

It is my job and the role of you all here tonight to make the rocky road as smooth as possible.

The government announced a $73 million budget package to improve the courts by injecting money into new technology, staffing and facilities.

I am just quickly going to read over some of the initiatives that are coming up:

Non-Judge Led Mediation

The government is investing in a pilot of non judge-led mediation that will run in the North Shore, Hamilton, Porirua and Christchurch Family Courts over 2005. The aim of this initiative is to test ways of assisting parties to resolve differences through providing faster access to mediation services. This pilot is part of the Government's response to the Law Commission's report Dispute Resolution in the Family Court.

Counselling for Couples

· Presently couples' counselling is only available for heterosexual couples, both married and defacto. · But this could well change to include same sex couple because of a proposed amendment to the Care of Children Bill.

Family Court Website

· I really enjoyed launching the revised Family Court Website the other week because the pages for children were just so chatty and unfrightening. It has pages that state the type of questions that a child might ask ie is it my fault, where will I live, do I have to like my parents friends?

· It has great information about how to get to court and what a courtroom looks like, Access to Court forms and guidelines for their use

· Some Depersonalised judgments of Family Court cases are also going up on the site but Judge Boshier (say bosha) will be able to talk more about that.

IT · I have just been visiting some Australian courts and was very impressed with the IT they are using to link up information between agencies and courts and would like to see some of that in use over here,

Media Access to the Family Court

· As you all know, media are currently prohibited access to any Family Court Hearings. But recently the Select Committee has put forward recommendations under the Care of Children's Bill that will alter this in the following ways: · 'Accredited media' representatives be allowed to attend Family Court hearings; · and media would not be permitted to disclose the identity of involved parties.

Family Courts Matters Bill

· Government has agreed to the development of a Family Courts Matter Bill this year. · There's been no decision yet on matters to be included in the Bill. However, there are a number of improvements which the Law Commission, in its report on Dispute Resolution in the Family Court, recommended which may be suitable, including the power for counsellors to recommend a next step in proceedings, extending audience rights at mediation conferences to wider family and whanau, and renaming mediation conferences a settlement conferences.

The government has at the core of its policy and investment the development of Strong Public Services' and it is putting the money where it's mouth is by investing in the courts.

I am also always open to hearing your thoughts and thank you for this invitation to dinner this evening and I look forward to chatting with many of you later.

Thank you.


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