The Department of Justice has published a strategy on family justice that it says is aimed at modernising the system, and making it more user-friendly.
The first Family Justice Strategy for 2022-2025 sets out its vision of a system that “helps children and families to obtain earlier, appropriate resolutions in a simpler, fairer, more effective way”.
The plan was developed by a Family Justice Oversight Group, chaired by the Department of Justice and made up of representatives from across the family-justice system.
The strategy will support legislative changes proposed in the Family Court Bill, which will set up a separate family-court division within the courts system.
Court buildings 'not suitable'
It highlights shortcomings in the current system, such as different waiting times for cases in courts across the country, and long lists of up to 80 cases a day.
It adds that most court buildings are not suitable for many family-law cases, and do not have adequate facilities for solicitors to meet their clients privately, or suitable waiting areas.
Work on a new family-court complex at Hammond Lane in Dublin is expected to begin next year.
The strategy proposes a number of measures aimed at supporting children within the family-justice system – including the development of child-friendly information, and an examination of the potential role of Child Liaison Officers to help guide children through the system.
It also calls for engagement with professional bodies – including the Judicial Council – to deliver standardized child-focused training for all professionals working in the sector.
The strategy also calls for a review of the enforcement of child maintenance orders .
The document sets out a number of measures aimed at improving access to information about the family justice system.
“Information on the family-justice system needs to be universally accessible and understandable – including for those who are not digitally literate, or who have particular needs,” it states.
Wider acceptance of ADR
The report proposes action to promote less adversarial ways of settling disputes.
It says that, in many cases, alternative dispute resolution (ADR) has the potential to save time and resources, as matters may be resolved more quickly than in court.
The report adds, however, that it is important that such options are "appropriately resourced", and professionals providing such services are regulated and standardized.
The strategy calls for an examination of how ADR settlements could be accepted more widely by the State, in order to enable families to avail of public services.
Among the recommendations on data-gathering are a consideration of the feasibility of a family-law case-reporting system, and research that would review the operation of the in-camera rule.
The report also calls for more investment in technology to enable more digital services to be provided.
"The use of technology has been beneficial in particular cases, such as those involving domestic violence, where remote participation allows for parties to be kept apart and reduces the chance of intimidation." It says.