Care of children

How should you respond when contacted by a court appointed lawyer for a student?

Under the Care of Children Act 2004 a lawyer for the child will be appointed in matters relating to the day to day care of the child which are likely to become contentious.

The principal or deputy principal should be the only ones in the first instance to liaise with the lawyer for the child.

The consent of the principal is required if a court appointed lawyer wishes to interview a student at school. You are not obliged to give your consent.

The Ministry of Justice has issued a practice note relating to lawyers for the child that covers interviews at school.

Lawyers for the child may also be appointed in proceedings under the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989 and the Domestic Violence Act 1995.

If the school is asked by a parent to be involved in Family Court proceedings, to provide evidence or reports, it is recommended that the school declines to take one side against the other, but offers to both parents to make the information available to the lawyer for the child.

Further information

More information on the appointment and role of the Lawyer for the Child is available on the Ministry of Justice website.

Other relevant sources of information are:

Key points to be aware of:

  • Counsel should exercise caution before deciding to interview children at school. 
  • The school's consent is required before any such interview is conducted.
  • If counsel is to interview the child at school, it is desirable to obtain the prior consent of the parents and to notify the school of those consents. A school may wish to defer the interview if the timing is inappropriate, for example if insufficient notice has been given, or if the proposed time will interfere with the child's education, or if the school believes on reasonable grounds that the interview at the time would greatly upset the child. The school may also choose to decline permission where parental consent has not yet been obtained.

Other important issues:

  • Part 28 of the Law Society protocol highlights that information obtained from a school is not covered by legal privilege and school staff may be called to provide evidence in court, should the matter advance that far, and may be subject to cross examination.
  • Part 29 notes that should the counsel for the child wish to speak to a member of staff, a principal, BOT member or school lawyer may (and probably should) be present.

You can contact NZSTA at any time with any questions regarding this issue.

 Updated: October 2011

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