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Family Court Bill promised by end-Q1
Justice minister Helen McEntee Pic: RollingNews.ie

29 Mar 2022 / justice Print

Family Court Bill promised by end-Q1

Justice minister Helen McEntee has published Justice Plan 2022 with 159 actions – including reform of professional legal education, with independent oversight and lower barriers to becoming a solicitor or barrister.

Proposed reforms of professional legal education will be finalised so as to expand and enhance access to the legal profession, introducing “independent oversight and quality assurance”, the plan says.

“Work will also progress to reform the courts system and increase efficiency, while creating a family-courts system that is less adversarial, and more sensitive to the needs of families,” said justice minister Helen McEntee.

Drafting of the Family Court Bill is ongoing, with a view to publication by end-Q1.

The bill will establish a District Family Court, a Circuit Family Court and a Family High Court as divisions within the current court structures, each dealing with family-law matters as appropriate to its jurisdiction.

In other family-law matters, on international surrogacy and donor-assisted human reproduction, the Department of Justice will examine the law on guardianship and parentage, ahead of any recommendations from the special Oireachtas Committee.

Public consultations will also be conducted on the issue of parental alienation.

The General Scheme of a Criminal Legal Aid Bill will be published, and will transfer the administration of the Criminal Legal Aid Scheme to the Legal Aid Board.

By Q4, there is a pledge to enact the ECtHR (Delay in Court Proceedings) Bill to provide appropriate compensation to those who have suffered undue delays in getting access to justice.

Minimum sentences

Reform of the law in relation to minimum life sentences for murder is planned.

The current average term served by life-sentenced prisoners is 20 years.

A life sentence in this jurisdiction remains applicable even after release, and parole breaches mean the offender returns to jail.

Under planned reforms, a trial judge could set a minimum number of years to be served in jail in cases of murder.

This change was recommended in the Law Reform Commission's Report on Mandatory Sentences in 2013.

At the start of the year, there were 359 people serving life sentences in this jurisdiction.

Just 16 inmates have served over 30 years of a life sentence, with some in custody for over 40 years.

The Justice Plan also includes commitments to criminal offences for stalking and non-fatal strangulation.

It will legalise body cameras for gardaí, and also implement reform of judicial appointments, through the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill.

'Rebalancing' duty of care

The cost of insurance will also be tackled by bringing forward new legislation on “rebalancing” the duty of care in the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, due to be published shortly.

The plan also pledges to publish research on tackling legal costs.

It will scope a possible Irish bid to host any proposed European centre for the prevention and countering of child sexual abuse.

It will also develop and publish a rural-safety plan with the National Rural Safety Forum.

Technical legislation will enable the full roll-out of the reformed structure, processes and governance of an Garda Síochána, shifting a greater emphasis to local policing.

Also, new laws will criminalise the grooming of children. 

“Tackling the cost of insurance will also be a focus,” said minister McEntee.

Gambling regulator

James Browne (Minister of State for Law Reform) added that he was “absolutely committed to progressing legislation regarding the regulation of gambling, which will establish a public-safety and wellbeing-focused Gambling Regulatory Authority of Ireland.”

Implementation of the National Cyber Security Strategy, through the enactment of the Cybercrime Bill, is also promised.

A National Action Plan to combat human trafficking is in the plan, as well as a Hate Crime Bill with tougher sentences for crimes motivated by prejudice against “protected characteristics”.

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