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'Archaic conditions are leading to violence': Call for new Family Law Court to be urgently developed

Eleven organisations are calling for a dedicated Family Law Court to be developed in Dublin.

Hammond Lane, Smithfield
Hammond Lane, Smithfield
Image: Google Street View

ELEVEN ORGANISATIONS ARE calling on the government to immediately allocate the funding required to develop a dedicated Family Law Court at Hammond Lane in Smithfield in Dublin.

The groups behind the Courting Disaster campaign say they have formed a coalition to highlight “the archaic conditions in which family law and childcare cases are currently being heard”.

The campaign, which will be launched in Dublin today, is backed by Barnardos, the Children’s Rights Alliance, Community Law and Mediation, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, the Family Lawyers Association, FLAC, the National Women’s Council Ireland, One Family, the Bar of Ireland, the Law Society and Women’s Aid.

It has been agreed in principle for some time that a dedicated Family Law Court is required but agreement has yet to be reached on its structure and funding. In October, the Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality recommended that the necessary funding be allocated as a matter of urgency.

In a joint statement related today, the Courting Disaster Campaign Group said: “A properly functioning courts system is essential to providing access to justice.

“Some of the most vulnerable members of society seeking to resolve family law proceedings, often arising from relationship and marital breakdown and domestic violence, are currently faced with wholly unsuitable and inconsistent court facilities where not even basic needs are met, such as separate waiting areas, family friendly spaces and consultation rooms to allow for privacy.

These archaic conditions significantly increase stress and anxiety in what are typically very sensitive cases, and this can result in volatility and even violence in the course of family law litigation.

The group added that an improvement in court facilities and more efficient administrative organisation “will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the management of family law applications and lead to reductions in delays and cost which is in the interest of all parties to proceedings”.

Domestic violence and abuse

In order to meet Ireland’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on The Rights of The Child, Courting Disaster is calling for a number of measures to be implemented.

These include the provision of onsite services to assist children such as Guardian ad Litem (GAL), social workers and specialist legal advice services; the provision of onsite legal aid and mediation services; the creation of a child-friendly environment; and a sufficient number of rooms to cater for private consultations, particularly in relation to facilitating safe spaces for people and families who are experiencing domestic violence and abuse situations.

Speaking in the Dáil recently, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he wants to see the Hammond Lane project “started and completed at the earliest opportunity”.

He welcomed the publication of the committee’s report in October and said €80 million in capital funding has been made available for the development of a new family law centre and children’s court complex at the site.

Flanagan said his department is particularly focused on reforming the family law system, noting that policy, legislation and governance of the system are currently being examined.

“That modernisation includes the introduction of a new family court Bill and the development of a dedicated family court system.

“In addition, a task force comprising senior officials from my Department, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs, the Legal Aid Board and the Courts Service has been formed to seek agreement on core questions of policy and cost,” Flanagan stated.

He said that, under the proposed legislation, family courts “will have new procedures aimed at less adversarial resolution of disputes, and will have appropriate facilities and case management arrangements”.

Flanagan added that he met representatives from the Courts Service in November and is “keen to ensure that we see progress here”.

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Órla Ryan

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