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Family Court centralisation to go ahead

The planned centralisation of Family Court hearings in Auckland will go ahead despite opposition from lawyers and community groups.

Thu, 16 Jun 2011


The planned centralisation of Family Court hearings in Auckland will go ahead despite opposition from lawyers and community groups.

A Ministry of Justice discussion document this year proposed moving longer hearings to the Auckland and Manukau courts, which would reduce services at four other courts in the region. The ministry is still consulting on the proposals.

The move has been criticised by west Auckland lawyers, who say it disadvantages locals by forcing them to travel into central Auckland for hearings.

Courts Minister Georgina te Heuheu today said longer Family Court hearings had already been centralised and the scheme was working well.

"From the beginning of April, the waiting time for long-course fixtures has reduced from a range of 19 to 35 weeks, to just nine weeks," she told Parliament's justice and electoral committee.

The ministry had surveyed court users and found more than 60 percent were happy to travel further afield to get an earlier hearing date.

Labour MP Carmel Sepuloni said west Auckland lawyers believed centralisation would decrease efficiency. She was concerned the changes set out in the discussion document were already a "done deal".

"It's something that's going to go ahead regardless of whether or not the stakeholders involved ... say that this isn't going to work," she said.

Ms te Heuheu confirmed the plans would be implemented.

"This will go ahead, there may be some amendments to it in terms of the feedback, but the main impact of this is on staff."

She said she was aware of the lawyers' concerns, but said there would be no difference to the frontline services at the various courts.

The changes took advantage of the greater number of family courtrooms, judges and supporting facilities at the Auckland Family Court.

"Shorter fixtures and other types of hearings continue to take place at their home court -- that is the court at which the proceedings were filed," Ms te Heuheu said.

"What will happen is that case management and basically behind-the-counter services will be managed centrally, which makes better use of resources."

District courts general manager Tony Fisher said the ministry had met local lawyers and community groups.

"One of the things that the ministry is very clear about is that if we introduce these proposals, everything that a member of the public currently does in respect of the interaction with the Waitakere court will continue," he said.

"A member of the public who wants to file proceedings, wants to go into the court to make inquiries, seek urgent applications, they will still be able to do that at the Waitakere court within the same hours that the court currently operates."

Mr Fisher said the ministry was working through submissions and would report back in about a month.

"In the meantime, we have responded to requests from community groups and the legal profession and the local council boards to meet with them," he said.

Thu, 16 Jun 2011
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Family Court centralisation to go ahead