BPW NZ made a submission in mid-February on the Family Court Proceedings Reform Bill as we, as an organisation, are committed to ensuring all women and their families have fair access to Family Courts and representation through advocacy, education and mentoring.
We supported the intent of this Bill to provide a more responsive service for children and vulnerable people and we congratulated the Justice and Electoral Committee on the work that had gone into this omnibus Bill (covering the Care of Children Act 2004, the Child Support Act 1991, the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act 1989, the Domestic Violence Act 1995, the Family Courts Act 1980, the Family Proceedings Act 1980, the Legal Services Act 2011, the Property (Relationship) Act 1976 and the Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act 1988). We were, however, concerned that excessive cost-cutting measures and access barriers may work against the intent of this Bill.
The background to this Bill is that back in 2011 the Government acknowledged that the Family Courts were under pressure, costs were ballooning and that good outcomes for children were not necessarily the prime focus. A review was written with possible changes to proceedings and submissions were sought on the proposals. BPW NZ made a submission in February 2012 (the full submission can be read on our website). We were pleased to see in the current Bill that some of our suggestions had been incorporated.
In our February 2013 submission on the Bill we covered many issues and some of the areas we supported are covered briefly here:
- the introduction of a non-adversarial Family Dispute Resolution service to allow for earlier intervention, reduction of the impact of conflict on children and to speed the resolution of family disputes. We emphasised that for the Family Dispute Resolution service to be effective it needs to take place after the Parties have attended Counselling, which needs to be for up to six Sessions as one session can achieve very little.
- the introduction of a “Without notice” track to the Family Courts for cases involving domestic violence, alcohol and drug addiction and mental health issues. We believe It is vital that no cost or administrative barriers are placed in this area to ensure that those in fear gain fast protection for themselves and their children.
- the use of Parenting through Separation (PTS) courses and we recommended that the Family Dispute Resolution service encouraged all parties using their services to attend these courses before Mediation began.
- the increase in the maximum penalty for breaching a protection order from two years to three years. In line with our policy 18.5.2 we urged the government to improve the implementation of such legislation.
Some of the concerns raised by us were:
- the mechanism for determining exemption or subsidy of costs to use the Family Dispute Resolutions service.
- the switch to independent navigation and the reduction of access to court officials and lawyers. Our concern is this will raise barriers for those with low literacy, low computer skills or no access to computers
- the change of onus on the Court in the matter of appointing a children’s lawyer. We believe the needs and views of the children are paramount
This submission was prepared by Carolyn Savage, Anne Todd-Lambie, Dianne Glenn and myself,
The full text of the BPW NZ submission (which includes supporting policy) can be read on our website.