Government under pressure to deliver ‘major overhaul’ of family justice system
The Government has come under increasing pressure to progress legislation and funding to deliver a major overhaul of the family law system.
In a report published today, the Oireachtas justice committee has called for the Government to give urgent priority to promised legislation for the establishment of a dedicated and integrated Family Court within existing court structures.
The committee has also urged the Government to provide the necessary funding for a purpose-built family courts complex adjacent to the Four Courts in Dublin and modernisation of family court facilities nationwide.
The 38 recommendations in its report also includes a call for members of the judiciary, lawyers and court staff to receive comprehensive specialist training to ensure those involved in family court proceedings have the specialist supports required.
The report was prepared after a series of committee hearings which chairman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said had made “abundantly clear that the family law system requires fundamental and ambitious reform”.
The committee’s work has been commended by the Council of The Bar of Ireland, which said the report was “comprehensive” and highlighted “the many challenges facing family law clients and their advocates”.
Micheál P O’Higgins SC, chairman of the Bar Council, said the current system of holding family law proceedings within the existing court structure “works reasonably well in Dublin, where there are dedicated family law courts”, but that “outside of Dublin, the number of days allocated to family law sittings can be quite limited which results in system clogging and long delays”.
He said: “The recommendation of the committee to establish a dedicated and integrated family court within existing court structures and, critically, to ensure the necessary resources and supports for its implementation is welcomed and we join the Committee’s calls on Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan TD to bring forward the required legislation as a matter of priority.”
Seán O’hUallacháin SC, a barrister specialising in family law, said: “While a dedicated family law division is to be welcomed, it will not provide the required efficiencies without appropriate resources.
“Current locations being used for family law proceedings are totally unsuitable; inconsistent facilities in court venues and lack of adequate consultation rooms directly impacts on the manner in which family law proceedings are conducted. The failure to provide separate waiting areas or family friendly spaces in court venues can significantly increase avoidable stress and anxiety which can result in volatility in the course of family law litigation.
“While we welcome the recommendation of the committee to conduct a thorough review of the current family court infrastructure, it is the view of the Council that the construction of dedicated family law facilities at Hammond Lane is absolutely necessary and will go a long way towards addressing deficiencies in the current family law system.
“We welcome the recommendation of the committee that the necessary funding be allocated to ensure the construction of a purpose-built family law complex is commenced as a matter of urgency.”
Rachel Baldwin BL, chair of the civil state Bar committee, said: “A properly functioning civil legal aid system is essential in providing access to justice. As a practitioner dealing daily with vulnerable clients of the family law system, it is clear that the Legal Aid Board requires significant additional resources if a properly functioning civil legal aid system is to be provided and the call by the committee for a full review of the legal aid scheme is timely.
“Despite the best efforts of practitioners instructed by the Legal Aid Board, there are regularly lengthy delays where either or both parties are represented by the Legal Aid Board, adding to delays and costs and leading to additional stress to clients.”