A wide-ranging review is set to cut ballooning costs in the Family Court, Government has announced.

Justice Minister Simon Power today released the terms of reference for the long awaited Family Court review.

It would report on a broad range of fundamental issues, including the role of the State in family disputes, the purpose, role and function of the court and the incentives for people to resolve disputes outside of it. he said.

"The review will look at how a piecemeal approach to family law reform has impacted on the efficiency of the court, as well as ensuring it is sustainable, cost effective, and responsive to the needs to those who use it and the taxpayers who pay for it."

The Family Court total spending had increased by 63 per cent, from $83.9 million to $137.1 million, since 2005, Mr Power said.

There were 68,666 new applications to the Family Court last year - many of them for family-related services such as counselling and mediation.

Direct operating costs had also increased by 28 per cent from $20.4 million a year in 2004/05 to $26.1 million. Those include the cost of court staff, rent, utilities, travel, IT, and consumables.

"These figures suggest the system is not working as well as it could and that the framework and incentives don't necessarily match what legislation and the courts want to achieve.

"Furthermore there's little evidence to show that the increase in spending has led to improved outcomes, particularly for children."

Mr Power said the review complemented recently announced proposals to curb the growth of legal aid.

Those recommendations included tightening the merits and special circumstances tests, re-introducing a user charge for some cases and extending a quality assurance framework to professionals working in the Family Court.

Spending on family legal aid had almost doubled to $50.3 million a year since 2004/05.

Mr Power said there will be an opportunity for the public to take part in the Family Court review, when a public consultation paper is released in September this year.

- NZHERALD STAFF