A Family Justice Oversight Group has recently been established in my Department which, in addition to department officials, also includes representation from the judiciary, the Courts Service, the Legal Aid Board and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. The Group held its first meeting in September and has been tasked with agreeing a high-level vision and key medium and longer-term objectives for the development of a national family justice system having regard to international best practice, in parallel with the establishment of the dedicated Family Court structure as envisaged by the forthcoming Family Court Bill.
A work plan is currently being developed by the group and I understand that one of the tasks to be undertaken is consideration of the various recommendations contained in the Joint Committee on Justice and Equality Report on Reform of the Family Law System.
The Programme for Government contains a commitment to enact a Family Court Bill to create a new dedicated Family Court within the existing court structure and provide for court procedures that support a less adversarial resolution of disputes.
In September, the Government approved the drafting of a Family Court Bill to provide for the establishment of a District Family Court, a Circuit Family Court and a Family High Court as divisions within the existing court structures.
In the preparation of the General Scheme, account has been taken of the Report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality on the Reform of the Family Law System, published in October 2019.
The publication of the General Scheme is a first step in an ongoing process of improving how people are able to resolve family-based problems that require a legal solution. The overall aim is to change the culture so that the focus of the family justice system meets the complex needs of people who need help with family justice issues.
The General Scheme of the Family Court Bill has been referred to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for drafting and to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice for pre-legislative scrutiny. It is not possible at this stage to indicate when the Bill is likely to be published or to predict the timeframe for the legislative process with regard to the Bill after its publication.