Bill introduced to fix National’s Family Court reform failures

The Minister of Justice has today introduced the Family Court (Supporting Children in Court) Legislation Bill – the next step in the ongoing programme of work to fix the failed 2014 Family Court reforms led by then Justice Minister Judith Collins.

The Bill arises from the report of the Independent Panel Te Korowai Ture ā-Whānau, which examined the effectiveness of the 2014 family justice reforms and recommended changes.

The Bill amends the Care of Children Act and the Family Dispute Resolution Act to establish children’s participation as a guiding principle.

“In 2014 – Judith Collins claimed her Family Court reforms were putting children at the heart of the Family Court. They didn’t. This Bill ensures the child’s voice is heard through all aspects of the court process,” Andrew Little said.

“In the gravity of courtroom proceedings, it’s important the experience doesn’t re-traumatise or harm the child in any way. By having a more child-focused approach, this Bill will enhance children’s participation in proceedings that affect them and ensures that children feel supported and informed as they move through the process.

“At the most basic level, this Bill will require lawyer 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,” Andrew Little said.

This is the second of two Bills which form part of the legislative phase of a long-term programme of change to the family justice system.

The Bill also provides express reference to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and establishes appointment criteria for the child’s lawyer to ensure that they are suitably qualified by reasons such as personality, cultural background, training, and experience, to represent the child or young person.

The Bill arises from the report of the Independent Panel Te Korowai Ture ā-Whānau, which examined the effectiveness of the 2014 family justice reforms and recommended changes.

The Panel found the current system tends to make decisions about children, not decisions involving children.

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.

The first Bill, the Family Court (Supporting Families in Court) Legislation Bill, was passed following the announcement of Budget 2020. It reinstated legal representation in the early stages of Care of Children Act 2004 (CoCA) proceedings with legal aid for eligible parties.