We use cookies to collect and analyse information on site performance and usage to improve and customise your experience, where applicable. View our Cookies Policy. Click Accept and continue to use our website or Manage to review and update your preferences.

Law Society before Oireachtas to highlight crisis in family law

20 Feb 2019 / family law Print

Law Society before Oireachtas to highlight crisis in family law

The Law Society Family and Child Law Committee was before the Oireachtas today highlighting the crisis facing the Irish family law system.

The delegation called on the Government to prioritise the modernisation of the family courts infrastructure, including the creation of a specialist division of family courts and judges.

They were appearing before the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality this morning to discuss reform of the family law system.

“Family law is a dynamic and complex area of law and we have seen significant changes in recent years that reflect the evolving fabric of Irish society,” said Keith Walsh, chair of the Law Society’s Family and Child Law Committee.

“Family breakdown, child custody, and protection of minors; these are some of the most difficult and sensitive court proceedings that exist.”

On the rights of fathers, Keith Walsh told the committee that from a practical viewpoint but without empirical evidence, it appears that fathers who wish to have extensive access with their children face an uphill battle in the Irish courts.

Shared 50/50 parenting is not widespread currently, he said.

“Fathers are being respected but in relation to children they may not always be fairly treated. Again more fact-based research is required.

“The creation of a specialist family law division may assist in the development of a court policy towards fathers which may be more enlightened than the current position,” he said.


Mr Walsh told the committee “The family courts system is in crisis. It is chronically underfunded, lawyers and judges are over-stretched, and our clients are often highly vulnerable – children and adults are in need of urgent assistance, specialised care and dedicated facilities.”

Some of the key difficulties the Law Society highlighted included:

  • Inadequate security,
  • An unsafe environment for litigants, and
  • Unsafe working conditions for courts staff, lawyers and judges.

“The Law Society has been highlighting the safety issues within the family courts infrastructure in Dublin and nationwide for several years. Unfortunately, this came to a head during an incident in December 2018 involving a Circuit Court judge, a lawyer and a client in Phoenix House in Dublin.

“The situation is particularly bad in Dublin in terms of the buildings in which the family courts are held. The childcare courts are currently housed in Victorian criminal law courts which are simply not fit for purpose.”

“Several years have passed since the announcement of a brand-new, purpose-built family courts complex on Hammond Lane, which the Law Society has very strongly advocated for. However, the momentum behind this project appears to have stalled.”

“It is vital that this valuable piece of courts infrastructure is progressed as a matter of priority.”

Specialist division

“A specialist division of family law courts and judges would help deal with family law cases more efficiently. It would be more likely that the same judges would be available to deal with cases that appear regularly before the courts and create more consistency.”

“It is not proposed to change the work undertaken by each court, but that only family law cases would be heard in these courts and they would take the family law cases out of the more general courts.”

The Law Society is also calling for more focus to be placed on settling cases earlier in the process.

“Very active intervention in family law cases by judges, with an emphasis on resolution and alternative dispute resolution approaches, could result in significant savings in time and resources for all parties.”

Mr Walsh also notes that judges would ideally also be trained mediators, collaborative lawyers or arbitrators.

“A dedicated family law courts structure throughout the country could remedy many of the problems currently faced.”

However, he explains, this will only work if:

  • The family law courts system is properly resourced, integrated with alternative dispute resolution systems and the Legal Aid Board in court facilities,
  • Proper premises are provided for the family law courts,
  • Geographic court jurisdictions are merged to create a number (perhaps between ten and 14) dedicated and specialist family law courts, comprising District, Circuit and High Courts. The additional travel for litigants and lawyers as well as the locations for these centralised, specialist courts would have to be carefully considered.

The Law Society is also highlighting the need for a rigorous case management system that would aim to facilitate early settlement discussions in divorce and separation proceedings. 

Gazette Desk
Gazette.ie is the daily legal news site of the Law Society of Ireland