Cost-savings > families

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Crusher Collins ANGRY! Crusher Collins smash Family Court!

Judith Collins is a disciple of the gospel of neoliberalism: a worshipper at the altar of cost-savings. It’s no surprise then that she’s introduced the Family Court Proceedings Reform Bill, a response to a Court that has seen “its costs greatly increase”. Critics have ripped the bill with “family lawyers, welfare agencies and community organisations slamm(ing) the bill as a cost-saving scheme that will cause vulnerable families and children to suffer”.

The bill is marketed as “creat(ing) a modern, accessible family justice system that is more focused on the needs of children and vulnerable people”. Innocuous enough, but beneath the spin is a worrying attack on the family.

Significant changes will be made to the Care of Children Act, the Domestic Violence Act, the Family Courts Act and others. One of the centrepieces of the new bill is Family Dispute Resolution (FDR). Before an application can be made to the Court, families will be required to undertake an FDR session(s) – without legal representation and bearing the $900 cost.

In effect, FDR will legislate poor families out of the Family Court process. There are indications that poor families will have the cost “subsidised”, but that doesn’t properly mitigate the imbalance between families that have and families that have not. The user pay principle should apply for commercial and non-essential services, but family law is different: it’s in the interest of society and the community to see family disputes settled. The downstream effects of family breakdown are well known. Given that, the government should be removing barriers to resolution, not building them.

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The burden of bearing the cost will fall disproportionately on Maori. Maori make up 25% of care of children cases (which FDR will apply to), 19% of family proceedings and 37% of CYFS cases.* Add to that, there’s no recognition of tikanga Maori and no one’s actually sure what an FDR means. The nature of an FDR and the providers will be specified in regulation. That’s poor Parliamentary practice and an unnecessary derogation to the executive.

In a written submission to the select committee, family law expert Professor Bill Atkin labelled the bill “retrogressive” and argued that it risks leaving people “unprotected and left to their own devices”.** Family law must aim to protect the vulnerable (i.e. reduce inequalities) and the paramount consideration should be the wellbeing of the child or children. The current bill doesn’t do that.

At clause 7 the bill holds that a lawyer for the child can only be appointed if the Court has “concerns” for the safety and wellbeing of the child and if the Court considers a lawyer “necessary”. It’s a two-step test, but surely any case that reaches a hearing is – by definition – concerning and dangerous to the safety and wellbeing of the child. Under the previous section children were entitled to a lawyer if they were subject to or a party to any proceedings. The change is an attempt to reduce legal fees, but it sacrifices the interests of children. That’s not what family law is about.

One of most worrying clauses is 7A – the role of lawyers. The clause limits the situations in where parties are entitled to legal representation. The aim is to reduce costs by keeping lawyers out of the Court. The Family Court Advisory Group notes that the effect is to “entrench” the “power imbalance between parties”. Legal representation helps correct power imbalance (i.e. inequalities). If parties have to represent themselves, the Court process favours those in positions of power. Power in the formal sense, think an educated party versus an uneducated party, and the informal sense, think a violent husband as one party versus an abused wife as the other party. Without legal representation, there is gross inequality. Inequality that, I think, will effect women disproportionately. After all, the Court can feel and operate like a boys’ club.

The changes I’ve outlined barely scratch the surface. Submitters have slammed the bill and various groups have ripped on it in the media. The government’s changes are, in essence, going to increase inequality and unfairness in the system. Pauline Tapp and Nicole Taylor were right to argue that:

 

Restricting the role of the family justice system to a narrow, technical focus is contrary to the research evidence”**

 

New Zealand’s family law system is internationally respected. However, the government is prepared to chuck the baby out with the bath water after worshipping and having an epiphany at the altar of cost-saving.

 

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*Link to annual statistics

**Written submissions are not online yet

***See Family Law Policy in New Zealand (4th edition) edited by Professor Atkin and Professor Mark Henaghan, the Dean of the School of Law at Otago University.

 

6 COMMENTS

  1. It would be great if everyone understood that 2007-8 was as good as it gets, and from then on we are living in a diminishing world.
    As Richard Heinberg, or it might have been Kunstler said about 12 years ago, this century is going to mirror the last 100 years, alas they/we were so positive back then, now it looks like the next 10 years will see us back on horse and cart (if we haven’t eaten the horses), and the first street light in Wellington going out.
    We will continue to see a reduction in all the so called civil improvements this ‘free energy’ society has introduced.
    No politician will be able to stop this, they could ‘manage’ it better I guess, but at some (soon) date we will start seeing many people dying from what we now think are preventable causes, and no politician is going to be able to stop it.
    The government doesn’t even know how many months/weeks worth of insulin we have in stock.
    So yeah we are now in the decade (if we are lucky to survive that long) of austerity, from now on if most of you have only lost 10% of your ‘wealth’ (be it $ or just quality of life) by the end of each year you will be doing well. As we are seeing this goes for organizations as well ie DOC.
    I vote for a fast crash, because we are all headed for the gutter, and the sooner we all get there the more of our own ‘stuff’ will be with us, in a slow crash you end up with nothing.
    So yeah the sooner the bullshit growth game is accepted as over, the sooner we could take some serious actions that might reduce the suffering, but as next to no one wants to face the truth, the complaining about the inevitable on going cuts will continue.
    But that’s all good cause we got Kiwi Saver, and 2 million Kiwi’s can’t be wrong.

    • “I vote for a fast crash, because we are all headed for the gutter, and the sooner we all get there the more of our own ‘stuff’ will be with us, in a slow crash you end up with nothing.”

      Or a Green-led government could insulate us from a “fast crash” by implementing a real sustainable/renewable economy/society (not the lip-service variety).

      We might have less in the way of consumer goods, and we might have to keep our possessions for longer – but the alternative for our grand-children will not be pleasant…

      Just a thought.

      • We need to practice what it is going to be like while we still have the energy to implement some form of marshel law, the better educated we all are the more civilized we will act, and the less ‘policing’ will be needed.
        We need a happy society, with something like 80% unemployment. With maybe the energy use of about 20% of what we are using now, we have to aim for a sun calorie only system, because that is where we are heading regardless of what any party is spinning.
        There is no such thing as “sustainable/renewable economy/society” , defiantly not when you are starting with 4 million + people. And facing an energy cliff, of which we are currently rotating above at the moment. beep beep

        With the perfect storm of climate change and peak/declining energy, and the masses being so bloody ignorant, there is nothing a ‘democratically elected’ system can do, it acts or reacts to slow
        “Implementing” sounds intergenerational and the speed the greens work with their Morris dance troops it would be way way to late.
        At any given time we are less than 3 weeks away from fuel rationing. http://oilcrash.com/articles/odr_rep.htm
        If the populace understood the ‘austerity’ measures we have no way of avoiding, then maybe we could help each other more? But we are still in the consumer/make money out of nothing, me me society.
        Extinction by apathy.
        Funny we might be one of the only species that has worked out the universe is 16 billion years old, yet we have kill ourselves, in less than a couple of hundred years.

      • A really sustainable economy/society requires no use of fossil fuels and no use of metals. Therefore, there can be no government [in the modern sense of the word], just local tribes competing for resources, as was the case before Europeans arrived in NZ.

        However you look at it, a substantial die-off is inevitable, and is coming far sooner than most people imagine possible.

        Professor Guy McPherson said: “Back to the Stone Age by 2020.”

        I think it could take till 2030 to get back to the Stone Age.

        On the other hand, with runaway greenhouse and general environmental collapse the Earth could be largely uninhabitable before the knick-knacks of civilisation disappear completely.

        • A really sustainable economy/society requires no use of fossil fuels and no use of metals.

          Bollocks. There’s enough energy available to maintain use of metals, computers and quite a few other conveniences that we’ve become accustomed to. There isn’t enough for cars or aeroplanes but we can survive without those.

          Professor Guy McPherson said: “Back to the Stone Age by 2020.”

          I think it could take till 2030 to get back to the Stone Age.

          Undoubtedly some places will go back to the stone age but not all will. And those that do will probably be able to get themselves back up to where everyone else is once the die off is over.

  2. I disagree with the pessimistic views about no growth and sustainability. Growth requires more people, more raw materials and a manufacturing economy based on consumerism and planned obsolescence. As soon as we redistribute wealth, reduce expectations, windback globalisation, recycle, replace the modern corporations with co-operatives we will not need more people and resources and our reliance on fossil fuels and metals will disappear. We will also do away with costly landfills. Pre-1840 local tribes competing for resources, I think not. Apart from perpetuating the myth that pakeha saved Maori by graciously agreeing to rob us of our land, language and culture, your cooment seems to imply that there is something wrong with local economies. Local economies in the end will save the world.

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