Simon Collins

Simon Collins is the Herald’s social issues reporter.

Refuges in dark over law repeal proposal

Judith Collins. Photo / Mark MItchell
Judith Collins. Photo / Mark MItchell

Women's refuges are being kept in the dark about the proposed repeal of laws protecting victims of domestic violence, despite new details on other changes to controversial Family Court reforms.

Justice Minister Judith Collins says Cabinet has agreed that parents in disputes over care of children will get up to four hours of legal aid and up to three hours of counselling before their case reaches court.

Law Society family law chairman Garry Collin said the concession was "a significant improvement" on original proposals to ban lawyers from acting in child custody disputes until cases reach a full defended court hearing, and to abolish free counselling unless specifically ordered by a judge.

But Women's Refuge spokeswoman Kiri Hannifin said Ms Collins' statement gave no hint of rethinking another proposal in the reform bill to repeal the current law barring children from unsupervised contact with an allegedly violent parent until a judge has worked through a list of criteria to decide whether contact would be safe.

"We are hopeful that a large contingent of concerns about that will be listened to, but we've heard nothing," Ms Hannifin said.

Ms Collins' silence on the issue contrasts with what Mr Collin described as detailed consultation with the Law Society on the implementation of the reform bill.

He said family lawyers were divided over the current violence provisions and the Law Society's written submission supported repealing them, arguing that another clause requiring judges to protect child safety allowed "a wider inquiry".

However, Mr Collin's predecessor as chairman of the family law section, Auckland lawyer Antony Mahon, said he believed the criteria for judges to follow when violence was alleged should be written back into the bill.

Both lawyers and Ms Hannifin also urged the Government to drop a proposed $897 fee for private mediation, which would be compulsory for anyone seeking access to the court on a custody or contact issue except in violence cases.

Mr Collin said there was no sign that the fee was being rethought.

- NZ Herald

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