As the Deputy is aware, the Programme for Government commits the Government to significant reform of the courts, including the establishment of a separate family law court structure that is streamlined, more efficient, and less costly. The Government has approved, in principle my proposals for reforms to our courts structures which will, in due course, require the holding of a Constitutional referendum.
I have initiated a consultation process with interested parties in relation to the establishment of family law courts and am hosting a seminar on 6 July next to discuss how such courts might operate. I have invited an eminent judge from the Australian Family Court to share her experiences of their system. The outcome of the seminar will feed into the process of designing the most appropriate model of family law courts for Ireland.
I intend to bring forward, in the coming months, a Bill to promote mediation as a viable and cost effective alternative to court proceedings. The main objective of the Bill is the reduction of legal costs, the speeding up of dispute resolution and the lessening of the stress involved in court proceedings. These provisions are designed to ensure that the legal framework supports the parties in reaching an agreed and enduring resolution to their disputes where possible.
This measure will further enhance a successful initiative between the Courts Service, the Legal Aid Board and the Family Mediation Service which has been operating in the Dublin District Family Law Courts in Dolphin House since March 2011. The objective is to offer a robust alternative to a court determined outcome and a more appropriate means of resolving certain family disputes through mediation. This project has resulted in a total of 570 agreements finalised without recourse to the courts up to end December 2012. The project was extended further to Naas from September 2012 and to Cork with effect from January 2013.