Family Court cuts questioned

University of Otago law  faculty dean  Mark Henaghan says the Government funding for Family Court...
University of Otago law faculty dean Mark Henaghan says the Government funding for Family Court lawyers is money well spent. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Family Court lawyers provide direction and protect vulnerable children, University of Otago law faculty dean Mark Henaghan says.

But a counsellor says the sooner new Family Court reforms ''neutered and declawed'' lawyers, the better.

Prof Henaghan said relationship break-ups were difficult.

''No-one is acting rationally. Even rational people go off the board, and there are often very vulnerable children in the middle.''

Lawyers and counsellors were necessary to keep families focused and provide sensible advice to avoid children being harmed, he said.

The Family Court was the busiest court in New Zealand and the Government needed to continue the financing of lawyers and counsellors to ''ease'' people to a resolution, Prof Henaghan said.

The Family Court Proceedings Reform Bill was designed to the cut costs by having less lawyer and counsellor involvement.

However, there was no cost and benefit analysis of the Family Court, he said.

''There is not one shred of evidence to say it hasn't been working really, really well. It is purely cost cutting. The courts might cost a bit but they are a more dignified way to settling the disputes.''

Families used to get six hours of free counselling, he said.

''It's gone from six hours to three and you have to pay for it yourself. Under the new law, they are going to have a maximum of one hour.''

The cost would stop people getting counselling or require them to ''waste time'' and make a hardship application, Prof Henaghan said.

The Government should ''pay for it up front and get on with it'' because lawyers made Family Court effective.

The Government planned to implement the reforms in October next year, he said.

Counsellor Steve Taylor, of Auckland, said ''keeping lawyers at a distance'' gave families a greater chance of a positive outcome.

Lawyers had too much involvement in a Family Court process that would be more ''civil'' without them, he said.

There had been a ''law of the jungle'' mentality in the Family Court and the lions were the lawyers, psychologists and judges and the lambs were the families, Mr Taylor said.

''Under these new reforms, the lions have been largely neutered and declawed, the lambs are lambs no more, and children's interests are better served as a result.''

Prof Henaghan was attempting to ''preserve a fractured and broken status quo'' and the status quo was costly, because appeals were endless, he said.

''There is no limit, because it's taxpayers' money.''

The reforms would make people take ownership of their disputes because they were ''investing'' their own money, he said.

''It gives people the chance to think if they are doing it for the right reasons or are they doing it to be vindictive.''

- shawn.mcavinue@odt.co.nz

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