I intend to publish proposals in 2019 for a new approach to handling family law cases in Ireland at District, Circuit and High Court levels. A Family Court Bill will be introduced to create a new dedicated Family Court within the existing court structures. These courts will have new procedures aimed at less adversarial resolution of disputes and will have appropriate facilities and case management arrangements.
A working group was established in 2017, comprising officials from the Department of Justice and Equality, the Courts Service and the Legal Aid Board, to examine the operational aspects relating to the family court and develop an overall architecture for the new family court structure. The Department of Children and Youth Affairs and Tusla also participated in the working group. Key issues that arose in consultations included family court venues and facilities, resources and capital investment in family courts and integration of relevant family and child services to provide the best possible family law outcomes.
In 2018, a task force on the Family Court comprising senior officials from the Department of Justice and Equality, the Legal Aid Board and the Courts Service was formed to seek agreement on core questions of policy and costs. A representative of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has also joined the group. The work of this group is at an advanced stage. Issues being examined include court areas and locations, use of courthouses, provision of facilities and services, arrangements for management of resources, and oversight arrangements.
Work is well advanced on the General Scheme of a Family Court Bill. When finalised, the General Scheme will be submitted for Government approval in the usual manner and will have to undergo pre-legislative scrutiny. The Bill will then be drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. It is not possible at this stage to estimate when the Bill will be ready for publication.
The Family Court Bill is only one component of a new Family Court system. The provision of appropriate court facilities and services, and the capital and current resources that may be required for this, will be just as important, if not more so, for the operation of a new family court system.
The Government is committed to building a new Family Law Centre and Children’s Court in Dublin 7. The Government’s Infrastructure and Capital Investment Plan 2016-2021 provides for development of a Family Law and Children’s Court at the Hammond Lane site. The project is to be delivered as a Public Private Partnership.
As the Deputy is aware, under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998 management of the courts, including the provision of accommodation for court sittings, is the responsibility of the Courts Service, which is independent in exercising its functions.
My officials have been in ongoing discussions with the Courts Service who have been advised that €80 million in capital funding has been made available for the project.