Beefed-up family court security follows ‘traumatic’ incident
Gardai patrol sealed-off bomb scare scene with empty Hammond Lane site on left Pic: RollingNews.ie

09 Jan 2019 / courts Print

Beefed-up court security follows ‘traumatic’ incident

Beefed-up security arrangements at Dublin’s family law courts have been welcomed by legal practitioners this morning.

Following a “very serious security incident” at a family law sitting in Phoenix House in Dublin 7 just before Christmas, the Courts Service has now pledged to enhance personal security for court users and practitioners.

The move follows the pre-Christmas disturbance at Smithfield when a disgruntled litigant threatened onlookers by producing both an imitation firearm and a suspect device.

Controlled explosion

Army personnel carried out a controlled explosion at the Dublin court after its evacuation on 20 December.

A 45-year-old man appeared at Dublin District Court two days later charged with the false imprisonment of two women, and one count of threatening to kill and cause serious harm to a woman.

Chair of the Law Society's Family and Child Law Committee Keith Walsh said this morning that, while the increased security measures were to be welcomed, the fundamental problem still remained – the family law courts in Dublin were not fit for purpose.

“While the current family law court facilities at Phoenix House, Dolphin House and the Children’s Court in Smithfield are inadequate and a disservice to court users in the 21st century, the use of the 19th century criminal courts at the Bridewell for child law cases is particularly inappropriate and unsuitable. 

“The Bridewell was intended as a temporary measure, but is currently the default option. A new building on Hammond Lane to centralise the family law system of justice and house all family law courts in Dublin was announced four years ago.

“This project appears to have stalled as it still has to be approved by the Departments of Justice, and Public Expenditure and Reform. 

“The Law Society has been a strong advocate of this new project at Hammond Lane, which would meet the needs of clients, court staff, mediators, judges and lawyers,” he pointed out. 

'Distressing and traumatic'

Courts Service chief executive Brendan Ryan described the security incident as both “very distressing and traumatic” for those involved, and said it had prompted a full review of security.  

From Friday, all court users will be required to pass through a security screening area at the main entrance.

G4S personnel will be on patrol duty while the family law court is sitting, with similar security measures to those already operational at Dublin’s Four Courts and the Criminal Courts of Justice.

Campus practitioners who hold a valid access card will have to pass through the same security area – some delays are anticipated at peak times.

Opening hours

The family law court will now open at 8.30am and close at 5pm each day, or 30 minutes after the last case has finished. The premises must be vacated at that point, including all consultation rooms and legal practitioner rooms.

One existing consultation room is also being reallocated due to the new security measures.

Chief executive Brendan Ryan said that while he regretted any inconvenience, the security of all court users was of paramount importance. He asked that court users allow some extra time to access the building while the new arrangements bedded in.

He also pointed out that the proposed Hammond Lane family law complex would provide much improved security and better accommodation for all court users. Discussions on its financing were ongoing with the Department of Justice and Equality, he said.

Dublin Circuit Family Court office manager Fionnuala Nic Cormaic is currently consulting with Law Society representatives about the new arrangements, and their operation will be kept under review. 

Remarkable courage

Family law solicitor Keith Walsh observed that one of the few positives to be taken from the incident was the remarkable judicial courage shown by Judge Susan Ryan and the court staff on the day. 

“Judge Ryan’s conduct in particular has been the subject of much positive discussion among family lawyers, as she not alone acted to protect those in her courtroom but prevented those attempting to assist from putting themselves in danger,” Mr Walsh said.

He pointed that that, in general, family law cases that were held in camera were conducted in a civilised and dignified manner.

“All those involved in family law cases, whether solicitors, barristers, court staff, judges and expert witnesses are very attuned to the sensitive and difficult nature of family law proceedings, and go out of their way to ensure that they are conducted with the maximum of dignity and respect to all involved,” he pointed out. 

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