Government action to tackle delays in Family Court

  • Hon Kiritapu Allan

New legislation aimed at tackling delays in the family justice system, will help improve the wellbeing of thousands of children caught up in Family Court disputes every year, Justice Minister Kiri Allan says.

The Family Court (Family Court Associate) Legislation Bill will see a number of Family Court Associates employed around the country to work on cases, primarily in the early stages, to enable them to progress more quickly through the Court.

“The work of the Family Court is incredibly important,” Kiri Allan said.

“It deals with a diverse set of issues, from the care and protection of children, family violence, to divorce and relationship property. We know that delays in the Family Court keep whānau and tamariki in stressful and uncertain situations.

“Ensuring the faster resolution of cases will see far better outcomes for the estimated 16,000 children impacted by Family Court disputes each year.

“We want Family Court judges to be able to concentrate on progressing cases, which can be hugely traumatic for children, through the court instead of time-consuming administrative matters, and these roles will help them do just that.”

The Family Court (Family Court Associate) Legislation Bill is based on one of the recommendations made in the 2019 report Te Korowai Ture ā-Whānau. The report was produced by an independent panel appointed by the then Minister of Justice to examine the 2014 reforms to the family justice system. The panel found that the judges’ high administrative workload was a contributor in delays in the Family Court.

Funding of $15 million over four years to establish the Family Court Associate roles was provided through Budget 21.

“Any delays in court proceedings are counter to a child’s best interests. This investment is about placing the welfare of children, often at their most vulnerable, at the centre of what is a hugely sensitive process,” Kiri Allan said.

In 2020, the Government began its first phase of reform based on the Panel’s recommendations, aimed at better supporting families and whānau through the family justice system.

That included:

  • restoring the right to legal representation at the start of a case in the Family Court, and allowing parties to those proceedings, where eligible, to access legal aid;
  • the establishment of Kaiārahi – Family Court Navigators and the development of better information resources to help parents and whānau navigate the system;
  • an increase to remuneration for lawyers for children to incentivise the retention of skilled practitioners; and
  • the Family Court (Supporting Children in Court) Bill, focused on enhancing children’s participation in proceedings that affect them.

The public will have the opportunity to share their views on the Family Court (Family Court Associate) Legislation Bill at the Select Committee stage.

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