A task force report on New Brunswick's family courts says the system is in disarray, as workers are bogged down with paperwork and the interests of children have become secondary to procedural requirements.

Justice Raymond Guerette, the chairman of the Access to Family Justice Task Force, released the report on Tuesday, which states the family court system has been suffering for years.

"For some time, now, perhaps going back 15 years, the court has steadily deteriorated in giving appropriate and expeditious service to the public."

The report says the court system has worsened because of a variety of factors, including an almost 50 per cent jump in people without lawyers, an escalation in the number and complexity of hearings in child protection cases, and "perceived procedural requirements."

"In the last few years, especially, the lack of money, resources and attention has resulted in reduced service to the public," the report says.

"This situation has arisen from inordinate delays in obtaining a hearing date, far too numerous adjournments, the inability to provide expeditious and proportionate resolution to relatively minor problems and the failure to keep up with progressive changes in other jurisdictions."

Justice Minister T.J. Burke said overhauling the system will be his most important task as minister, but it won't be quick or easy.

He has appointed a committee to look at how to implement the report's recommendations and to launch a pilot program this fall.

Ordinary motions can take months

Even a routine motion for interim relief can take four to six months to be heard, according to the report.

Last year, the provincial government spent $900,000 to hire 20 assistants to help social workers clear a backlog of paperwork.

The report says that the interests of children are now secondary to "excessive procedural demands."

It also recommends replacing the "adversarial system" with one that lets families break up with dignity and respect.

It suggests adopting a triage system that would quickly assess new cases and route them toward appropriate services such as mediation.