New Family Court bill to help address ‘failed’ family justice reforms

The justice minister says that the legislation will increase the role of children in proceedings

New Family Court bill to help address ‘failed’ family justice reforms

A new Family Court bill has been implemented by the justice minister to help address “failed” family justice reforms.

The concept of the new Family Court (Supporting Children in Court) Legislation Bill was driven by the Independent Panel Te Korowai Ture ā-Whānau’s review of the effectiveness of the 2014 reforms spearheaded by former Justice Minister Judith Collins. The panel revealed that the current family justice system “tends to make decisions about children, not decisions involving children,” current Justice Minister Andrew Little said.

“This bill ensures the child’s voice is heard through all aspects of the court process,” he said.

The legislation makes changes to the Care of Children Act and the Family Dispute Resolution Act to boost the participatory role of children in hearings that impact them.

“At the most basic level, this bill will require lawyers for the child to explain to their client—the child—the court proceedings and what is happening throughout in a way that is understood by the particular child,” Little said.

He said that this “child-focused approach” is intended to ensure that children “feel supported and informed as they move through the process.”

“In the gravity of courtroom proceedings, it’s important the experience doesn’t re-traumatise or harm the child in any way,” Little said.

The bill also sets criteria for the selection of suitable lawyers to represent children. The criteria are based on personality, cultural background, training and experience, among others, and refer to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“These changes will support children who want to have a say in family arrangements and help take the parents’ and guardians’ focus away from the dispute and on to what is in the best interests of the child,” Little said.

The new legislation marks further progress in the government’s ongoing long-term program to enact change in the family justice system. Last month, Little had announced the re-establishment of early family lawyer access in care disputes.

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