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Referendum on establishing Family Court 'not necessary'

The former Justice minister called for a referendum but department said one isn’t needed now.

Image: Sam Boal/Photocall Ireland

DESPITE AN ANNOUNCEMENT in 2013 that there would be referendum to establish a new Family Court, the Department of Justice has stated that a vote to amend the Constitution is not now considered necessary.

The former Minister for Justice Alan Shatter said last year that a referendum would be held in 2014 to “establish a dedicated and integrated Family Court structure to meet the needs of the people”.

However, it is now believed that a Family Court can be set up by legislation rather than a constitutional amendment.

Barnardos has called on the Government to deliver on its promises to implement a court structure for family matters, stating that the system as it stands is “not adequate”.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, June Tinsley of Barnados said that the District and Circuit courts were overburdened, adding that the a new court system must be rolled out.

The department said they are in consultation with the judiciary and the Attorney General, with the aim of publishing a general scheme for the Family Law Courts Bill this autumn and of enacting the Bill in the first half of 2015.

Less costly

Responding to TheJournal.ie, the Department of Justice and Equality said that it is in the Programme for Government to establish a family law court that is “streamlined, more efficient and less costly”.

The idea is to have a two-tier system staffed with specialist judges.

The department said they initiated a consultation process with interested parties in relation to the establishment of family courts and, in that regard, hosted a seminar in July 2013 to discuss how such courts might be structured and operated.

Speaking at that seminar, Shatter said that new court should be entirely separate and should be in different venues. Currently, family law cases are held in special court offices in Dublin, but regionally, they are held in District Courts on certain days of the month.

Shatter wanted the new court to have adequate private consultation rooms and a co-located welfare and assessment service, as well as court mediation facilities.

However, he warned that establishing such a court could take years.

Consultation 

The department said it is currently developing a strategy to support the major reform project the proposal entails. This will include a process of consultation with the judiciary and all relevant stakeholders on all matters, including the necessary courts infrastructure and facilities.

“Central to the reforms will be the enactment of the necessary legislative measures to deal with all relevant family law matters including the functions and jurisdiction of the family court,” a spokesperson for the department said.

“It is intended that an outline of the necessary legislation will be published before the end of 2014.”

When asked where these new courts would be located, they said:

The issue of the possible location of the new courts when established has yet to be considered.

Tinsley said that the family courts system was “not fit” to meet the needs or case workload. She said a new structure that centred around the voice of the child needed to be established.

‘A Week in the Family Courts’ series will be running all this week on TheJournal.ie. We will bring you stories and analysis from the Family Courts around the country. Tomorrow we will be look at some of the issues facing children in the care of the State, the common cases that appear before the courts and how the system is working. 

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