Family Court delays be gone?
The Family Court (Family Court Associates) Legislation Bill (Bill) has recently been introduced to deal with the significant backlogs in the Family Court.
Part of the reason for Family Court delays is the high workload of Judges, as well as the impact of Covid on staffing levels. The Bill creates a new role in the Family Court – Family Court Associates, who will help to alleviate the workload of the Family Court Judges.
Why has the Bill been introduced?
In 2014, a number of reforms were introduced to improve access to family justice services in New Zealand. In 2019, an Independent Panel found that “Despite a reduction in the number of cases being filed, there has been no reduction in delay. In fact, delay has increased”.
One key finding was that Judges are spending too much time performing administrative work. Their recommendation was to transfer some of the responsibilities of Judges elsewhere. The Bill creates “Family Court Associate” roles to take on these responsibilities.
Who are Family Court Associates?
Family Court Associates will be lawyers that have held a New Zealand practising certificate for at least seven years, and who are, by reason of their training, experience, and personality, deemed suitable to be a Family Court Associate.
What will Family Court Associates do?
They will reduce Judges’ workloads by performing some of the Judges’ tasks in the earlier stages of the court process. This includes making decisions that can currently be made only by Judges. Their tasks will include:
- Appointing a lawyer to represent the children (tamariki), or a person that lacks capacity;
- Appointing a lawyer to assist the Court or to question witnesses in certain circumstances;
- Directing cultural, medical, psychiatric, psychological, or other reports;
- Deciding whether an application for a guardianship order or parenting order has sufficient evidence to be filed;
- Directing parties to attend Family Dispute Resolution or counselling;
- Convening and attending settlement conferences;
- Varying an interim order to enable a parent (who has neither the day-to-day care for, nor contact with, the child) to have supervised contact with the child facilitated by an approved provider, or assigning a hearing to enable them to be heard in court; and
- A number of other tasks to reduce Judges’ workloads.
When is this to change?
The Bill is currently in its First Reading and the next stage is consideration by a Select Committee which will ask for and consider public submissions.
We consider that action to reduce delays in the Family Court will be a positive for our clients, and ensure quicker access to justice.
If you would like further assistance with a family dispute or to prepare a submission for consideration by the Select Committee please contact a member of our Family Law Team.