My Department is actively working to deliver the much needed modernisation of the family law system in Ireland. This modernisation includes the introduction of a new Family Court Bill and the development of a dedicated family court system. The development of sensible, comprehensive and sensitive family law procedures particularly for vulnerable families, will be central to the new system.
The Report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee of the Reform of Family Law System which was published towards the end of last year made almost 40 recommendations across the area of family justice. As the Deputy will appreciate, the recommendations are extensive and merit a considered and careful response.
One of the key recommendations of the committee is the establishment of a dedicated and integrated family court within existing court structures. As the Deputy notes, the enactment of legislation on the establishment of a family court is a commitment in the Programme for Government and my Department is currently preparing the general scheme of a Family Court Bill which I will be bringing to Government for approval to draft shortly. The proposals in this scheme are a result of a broad consideration as to the best means of providing access to various family law mechanisms available to those families involved in private family law cases.
A Family Justice Oversight Group has recently been established within my Department which, in addition to departmental officials, includes representation from the judiciary, the Courts Service, the Legal Aid Board and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs. Consideration of the recommendations contained in the committee’s report will be integrated into the work of that group.
Pending approval by Government, it would not be appropriate for me to go into too much detail as to the content of the Scheme. However, I can say that the Family Court Bill will:
- Streamline family law court processes to make them more efficient and more user-friendly, while encouraging greater use of alternative dispute resolution to assist in more timely settlement of family law cases.
- Clarify jurisdictional issues so that cases can be dealt with by the most appropriate court notwithstanding the value of assets.
- Provide for a set of Guiding Principles applicable to all of the parties which could help ensure that the court would operate in a user-friendly and efficient manner.