[Sitting date: 02 August 2012. Volume:682;Page:4241. Text is incorporated into the Bound Volume.]
KATRINA SHANKS (National) to the
Minister of Justice: What changes is she making to improve the Family Court?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice)
: Today I have announced plans to reform the Family Court that will focus on supporting parents and families to resolve their family disputes independently, and will help modernise the Family Court to make it more efficient, effective, and responsive. We know that, if at all possible, it is best to keep some family matters out of court, especially when children are involved. Our changes put the needs of children and vulnerable people first.
Katrina Shanks: How will the Family Court changes improve the focus on children and vulnerable parties?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: We know that court proceedings can have a harmful impact on children. We want to minimise that harm. A new Family Disputes Resolution service will include free access to the highly regarded Parenting through Separation course, which helps families cope with the emotional upheaval of a domestic dispute. We are creating a fast track for urgent cases, and better supporting victims of domestic violence with improved treatment programmes, an increased maximum penalty for breaching a protection order, and recognition of economic abuse as a form of psychological abuse.
Katrina Shanks: Why are changes to the Family Court needed?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Earlier this year judges, lawyers, and counsellors raised serious concerns about how the court currently operates, including long delays and a lack of focus on children and vulnerable parties. Our new Family Disputes Resolution service will see about 4,000 fewer applications, involving 2,000 children, going to court each year for Care of Children Act cases. We are clearly putting the needs of children and vulnerable people first. People needing immediate access to court, legal representation, legal aid, or court-funded counselling will get it; this is not changing. What is changing is that for some private, family matters we can help families resolve their disputes without having to go to court.
Charles Chauvel: Does she agree with her officials’ estimate that her new fee of $897 for families to access the Family Disputes Resolution service, which will replace the existing counselling—which is provided free of charge and without any formalities like affidavits required—will deter 1,200 families with children every year from having their problems resolved by the New Zealand Family Court?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: Of course I do not agree with that advice, and I can tell the House why. Of course, this is the whole fee—$780 plus GST—for a hearing, or, in fact, a dispute resolution mediation service. What that actually means is that for anyone who is on a low income such that they would normally get legal aid, their share will be paid for them. The other half of that share, I can tell the House, equates to about 1 hour of a lawyer’s fee, and is actually a very minimal cost towards what is resolving matters that, if they were allowed to go on, could ultimately cost people many hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Charles Chauvel: I seek the leave of the House to table an information document provided to the public by the Minister today, which shows that $780 plus GST equals $897, and also—
Mr SPEAKER: Order! Could I just check that this is not a press release.
Charles Chauvel: No, it is a Q and A put out by the Minister.
Mr SPEAKER: But it is put out by the Minister?
Charles Chauvel: Yes.
Mr SPEAKER: Has it been put out for all members?
Charles Chauvel: No, I do not believe that it has been sent to members.
Mr SPEAKER: Well, I will leave it up to the House. The member can describe it.
Charles Chauvel: Thank you. The second point that the Q and A document makes is that 1,200 fewer applications to the Family Court are expected per annum.
Mr SPEAKER: Leave is sought to table that document. Is there any objection? There is no objection.
Document, by leave, laid on the Table of the House.
Hon Trevor Mallard: Is it her intention to extend the new affidavit-making process into the rest of the legal system, therefore making it easier to establish the truth as to whether John Judge is correct when he describes the Minister as pathetic, knowing the truth, and trying to blacken Mr Judge’s name, or she is correct when she wrongly suggested that he had wiped his computer and removed evidence about her leaked documents?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS: I can tell that member that I am not anticipating taking that action, but I can tell him that there will be far better anger management assistance for abusers in the Family Court from now on.