The Law Society has warned that delays in family-law will worsen unless the Government appoints more judges.
Speaking on RTÉ's This Week programme, the chair of the Law Society's Family and Child Law Committee at the Law Society Helen Coughlan addressed the issue of long waits for hearings in sensitive cases.
She warned that there would be further problems, unless more resources were allocated to the family courts.
In a submission on the Family Court Bill last year, the Society said that difficulties created by COVID-19 were being exacerbated by the poor state of the courts’ physical infrastructure.
Lives ‘put on hold’
The submission called for more support professionals and specially trained judges.
"A father may be going to court to get access to his child; a mother may be going to court looking for financial support for her children. Very often it can take upwards of a year for these cases to be heard in court. The ultimate loser in all of that are children." Coughlan told RTÉ.
"These delays are affecting families, and it means they cannot get on with their lives. Their lives are being put on hold,” she added.
"The system is failing them when they are at a very low point in their lives, and very often it is very vulnerable people who are accessing the court. Everyone should have a constitutional right to access justice, and this is not happening in the family courts at the moment,” Coughlan continued.
District Court ‘under-resourced’
Calling for more resources and facilities, she stated that there was a shortage of judges.
“The District Court deals with the vast majority of family-law cases, but District Court judges are dealing with many other cases too, and they are completely under-resourced," the committee chair said
She also called on the Government to progress legislation designed to create dedicated judges in dedicated family courts.
Coughlan pointed out that the general scheme of the Family Court Bill that provided for specialist family courts and specialist judges had been published in 2020.
“We are now in 2022 and there has been no pre-legislative scrutiny of that draft legislation yet, so it is going to be years before special family-law courts, with specialist judges, will be set up," she stated.
In a statement to RTÉ, the Courts Service said that there were longer waiting times in some areas of family law, where matters were listed for a limited number of days each month.
"Over the past two years there have been many occasions where COVID has resulted in judges, court staff, lawyers or parties being unavailable," it said.
"This has resulted in backlogs arising in a number of areas. Precisely because these absences arise at little or no notice and are unevenly spread geographically, delays vary greatly from district to district," it added.
The Department of Justice told RTÉ that the drafting of the bill on family courts was ongoing, and would be published “as soon as possible”.