The Nelson Family Court has had its first trial using new video conferencing technology that allows lawyers to represent their clients while remaining in their office.
Courts Minister Chester Borrows says the Ministry of Justice is trialling a new way of delivering Family Court services in a bid to save lawyers time and help families deal with their issues more quickly.
President of the Nelson branch of the Law Society and family lawyer Michelle Duggan was the first to use the technology in a review of a Family Court file last week.
The technology "worked just fine" as she represented her client while she sat in her office and appeared before court, via AVL.
It had the potential to be a really useful way of participating in the court process without having to inconveniently leave the office.
The quality was better than telephone conferencing, which she used this week for a file in the Blenheim court, she said.
"You can get so much more just from seeing what is happening in court. You get the full communication picture - which can sometimes be lost with the use of a telephone.
"It should be like you are there in court," she said.
Mr Borrows said the technology for the trial was installed in the court earlier this year but it took a bit of time for the lawyers and judiciary to familiarise themselves with it.
It also took a while to wait for the right case to arise, he said.
The new service was currently at the trial stage, which would help determine which types of family law cases could be progressed using the internet-based technology.
Video conferencing was aimed at cases that fall between a conference call and a hearing.
They had to be serious or complicated enough that the judge would not be comfortable dealing with it over the phone, but not a matter such as a substantive hearing where it was important to have all the parties in the same room, he said.
"While it's early days in the trial, the reports I've received is that the technology is working well. I look forward to seeing further results."
Mr Borrows said rural areas or smaller towns where family courts did not sit very often would hugely benefit from the new technology as lawyers travelling to those smaller hubs might not be necessary.
Law Society Family Law Section chairman Garry Collin said there was a fear that the technology could lead to court closures.
According to the Ministry of Justice website, there are nine family lawyers in Blenheim and 35 in Nelson, meaning lawyers frequently travelled to Marlborough to compensate for the shortage.
There was no suggestion that the technology would lead to the closure of the Blenheim courthouse.
It was a significant centre in its own right, he said.
If it saved lawyers having to travel from Nelson to Blenheim there would be great cost savings.
It was a project that the minister and the ministry had been working on for some time and the society was cautiously happy to contribute their support.
The courts were very paper-based and it was going to take a lot of infrastructure to change the culture, he said.
The trialling of the new service started in Whangarei, Nelson and Christchurch Family Courts, linking the courts to 12 selected lawyers in the surrounding areas.
Lawyers in Nelson, Motueka and Blenheim will be linked to Nelson Family Court, those in Kaitaia, Mangonui, Kaikohe and Kerikeri will be linked to Whangarei Family Court, and Rangiora and Kaiapoi lawyers will be connected with the Christchurch Family Court.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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