From today new legislation takes effect to both restore the right to legal representation at the start of a Care of Children (CoCA) dispute in the Family Court, and allow parties to those proceedings to access legal aid where eligible.
During a visit to the Family Court in Auckland today, the Minister of Justice and Courts met with court staff and lawyers for children to listen and discuss some of the challenges faced by families and whānau seeking to resolve disputes in the Family Court.
"These significant reforms are just the first step in implementing the transformative recommendations in He Korowai Ture ā-Whānau: The final report of the Independent Panel examining the 2014 family justice reforms. They will ensure that parents and whānau are well-supported and kept safe during Family Court proceedings, will help address delays in the Family Court. Together these changes will better enable durable resolution of care of children disputes," Andrew Little said.
Access to legal representation is expected to reduce the number of without-notice (urgent) applications for parenting orders and thereby reduce delays in the system. Currently, applications under the Care of Children Act take on average 245 days to resolve. This can result in emotional harm to children, and stress and anxiety to their parents and whānau.
"In addition to legal representation, we're establishing new Family Justice Liaison Officers (FLOs) within the Family Court. These people will ensure families and whānau receive information on the best possible options available, helping them to navigate the system.
"We're also increasing remuneration lawyers for child to incentivise the recruitment and retention of skilled practitioners. This is the first increase to these rates since 1996 (notwithstanding GST increases). Funding increases for lawyers for child will increase each year for the next four years.
"These changes were announced in Budget 2020 and the $62 million investment is from the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund. I am proud that we're taking the first steps in a long-term programme of work to strengthen the Family Court and support parents and whānau through their proceedings," said Andrew Little.