The Family Court is in for a shake-up, with a panel being set up to review changes to the system four years ago which Justice Minister Andrew Little says made things worse.
"The 2014 changes were meant to help people resolve parenting disputes without having to go to court but have, in fact, led to the opposite as there's been a huge increase in the number of urgent 'without notice' applications which have to be put before a Family Court judge," Little said today.
"I am concerned that families and children are losing out as a result of not receiving adequate advice and support during this distressing time. The last government removed access to lawyers in many cases and I'm concerned about how this and the other changes have impacted on access to justice," he said.
Former chief human rights commissioner Rosslyn Noonan and family law experts La-Verne King and Chris Dellabarca will lead the review, supported by an expert reference group.
"It was essential to secure panel members who have the skills and necessary experience to comprehensively assess the issues in the family justice system and avoid the missteps of previous reforms.
"The expert reference group will also play an important role, giving the panel access to people with expertise across a range of disciplines, including law, mediation, child psychology, kaupapa Māori and family violence to ensure its findings reflect current research and best practice," Little said.
"I wanted to have a human rights approach taken to looking at the Family Court, and that is because the overwhelming range of comments that I get as Justice Minister about the Family Court is that many women who are parties to proceedings in the court don't feel as if they're being heard, especially women who are victims of domestic violence.
"And many men, fathers, are saying they don't consider that their applications to continue to play a parenting role in the lives of their child are being properly heard.
"And we know that for a lot of children, applications are taking a much longer time to sort out and that's having an impact on them in terms of settling their care arrangements so that they can get on with their lives too."
Noonan said the panel had a tight time frame to carry out the review but it recognised the urgency of the issues.
"The problems that have arisen at the Family Court, people have been aware of them almost in a very period after they were implemented.
"This is a court where we need ... to ensure that people can have a high degree of confidence in it because this deals with families at their most fraught. It's hard for parents in that situation but it can also be particularly be damaging for children if we don't get it right."
The panel will report back to the Minister with recommendations before May 2019.