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Family-law complainants face potential barrier

17 Feb 2023 / judiciary Print

Family-law complainants face potential barrier

Judges are seeking a change to the law that would ensure that people who want to formally complain about a judge’s handling of a family-law case will have access to the documents needed for their complaint.

According to The Irish Times, the move follows a letter sent by the registrar of the Judicial Conduct Committee (JCC) of the Judicial Council to a number of people who have made formal complaints against judges about family-law proceedings.

The registrar has told the complainants that they must first get that judge’s permission to release any of the in-camera material used in those proceedings.

‘No alternative’

The newspaper quoted a family-law solicitor as saying that a High Court judgment last October appeared to mean that there was “no alternative” but to have the same judge who heard the relevant family-law case decide whether or not to grant an application to release the materials concerning that case.

The judgment concerned the interpretation of section 40 of the Civil Liability and Courts Act 2004, which deals with the release of documents and materials in family-law proceedings.

“I would anticipate most applications for release of documents for the purpose of a complaint would be granted, but it’s not a good look for judges to be judges in their own cause,” the family-law solicitor told The Irish Times.

‘Appropriate amendment’

In a written reply to queries from the newspaper, Kevin O’Neill, secretary to the Judicial Council, said that an issue had arisen in relation to a High Court judgment.

“The registrar to the Judicial Conduct Committee has communicated with the relevant complainants and, in doing so, indicated a route by which it may be possible to progress a complaint in accordance with the judgment,” he wrote.

“In addition, the matter was discussed by the board of the Judicial Council, as a result of which a request for an appropriate statutory amendment has been made which, if implemented, would obviate the necessity for this step,” O’Neill concluded.

The Judicial Council Act 2019, which came into effect last year, put procedures in place to facilitate complaints about alleged judicial misconduct.

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