asked the Minister for Justice the reason it takes at least seven months for a family law case to be heard in the High Court after the date set down for trial; and if he will make a statement on why there is only one judge to deal with all such cases in the country.
Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Family Law Cases.
Although there is at present a delay of seven months between the date of setting down and the date of trial of a family law case in the High Court, the position in relation to matters requiring urgent attention is that the High Court deals with such matters on one day each week on an interim basis thereby giving immediate relief where needed.
The distribution of the business of the High Court among the several judges is a statutory function of the President of the High Court and I understand from him that the pressure of business coming before the High Court in areas other than family law has been such that he has been able to assign only one judge at a time to deal with family law business.
The Government have recently appointed an additional judge of the High Court and it is the President's intention, with effect from the commencement of next term, that is, 27 April, to have two High Court judges dealing full time with family law business.
Further relief in this area is provided for in the Courts Bill, 1980, which is at present before the Seanad and which proposes, inter alia, to confer a considerable amount of the family law jurisdiction at present being exercised by the High Court on the Circuit and District Courts, thereby enabling litigants, who now have to come to Dublin to have their cases disposed of, to have such matters dealt with locally.
Having regard to the present position regarding the whole incidence of breakdown in marital relations, is the Minister satisfied that the provision of an extra judge will have the effect of reducing the time lag in these cases which are considerably urgent, even allowing for the one-day special hearing allowed by the High Court?
I am advised that the appointment of the additional judge in this area will relieve considerably the pressure being experienced. However, if the President of the High Court considers that extra appointments, apart from the one just made, would help him, I would be prepared to consider the matter.
Is the Minister satisfied that the Department have sufficient information in relation to the entire incidence of marital breakdown to enable them to assist the President of the High Court in making resources and facilities available?
The President of the High Court has statutory responsibilities in this area and he would be in a position to assess the situation better than anyone else. If he requires more help I shall be prepared to give it to him. I consider delays of seven months in this area to be too long and I am prepared to do everything possible to have these delays reduced.
Would the Government be prepared, on foot of the facts presented to them by the President of the High Court, either to appoint another judge or to try to establish what the full extent of the problem is?
If a request comes to me from the President of the High Court for additional appointments in this area, I shall give it every consideration.
I am allowing only one more supplementary on this question.
May I take it, then, that while I as a public representative draw attention to the delays of seven months and while the Minister agrees that such delays are too long, no action can be taken to improve the situation until such time as the President of the High Court requests additional help?
The Deputy may not take that to be so. In the event of difficulties in the courts, the President, the Minister for Justice and his staff would discuss the matter for the purpose of ascertaining how best the problem could be overcome.
In other words the Minister has responsibility but the question is whether he will exercise it.