5 Sep 2018

Parents given chance to speak on Family Court improvements

10:56 am on 5 September 2018

Parents previously involved in the family court system have two months to have their say on how to improve it.

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Photo: RNZ

The independent panel charged with improving family court wants to hear from anyone who has navigated their way through the court and related services.

Changes introduced in 2014 were supposed to resolve disputes without families having to go to court.

But there has been a sharp increase in urgent applications as parents work around the system to get access to lawyers and have their case dealt with by a judge.

That has caused major delays, with Justice Minister Andrew Little conceding children are suffering as a result.

Panel chair Rosslyn Noonan said while it was not possible to have a system that pleased everybody, criticisms were so widespread something had to be done.

"There's such a range of people expressing concern about the Family Court, and that's not good.

"It might not even be fair, but we need that court to have legitimacy, credibility and for most people to feel that they can go to it and get a fair outcome.

"Ensuring the family justice system is working as well as it can for everyone, but particularly our children, is absolutely crucial."

Ms Noonan said the panel was keeping an open mind about what changes would be required, but it was clear quick decisions were needed.

Over the next two months the panel will travel to 10 centres to talk to people directly.

People can also make written, audio and video submissions.

The panel includes human rights expert Rosslyn Noonan and prominent family lawyers, La-Verne King and Chris Dellabarca.

In addition, it is being supported by an Expert Reference Group which includes experts in child psychology, family law, mediation, kaupapa Māori research and family violence, along with representatives from key organisations in the family justice sector.

The panel will report back to government in May 2019.