It is my intention to publish proposals in 2019 for a new approach to handling family law cases in Ireland at District, Circuit and High Court levels. This will be done by legislation 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.
My Department is currently working on the General Scheme of a Family Court Bill, which will aim to streamline family law court processes, clarify jurisdictional issues and provide for a set of guiding principles to help to ensure that the family court will operate in a user-friendly and efficient manner. Once the General Scheme has been approved by Government, it will be referred to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for drafting and to the relevant Oireachtas Committee for pre-legislative scrutiny.
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 three-person task force 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. 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.