The Family Courts Bill 2022, though welcome, requires significant improvement before its passage by the Oireachtas, the Law Society has said, as senior judges and pre-eminent family law experts from England and Wales prepared to address its family law conference on Friday (14 July).
The Law Society has made further detailed recommendations in a new research submission on family-courts reform.
The Blackhall Place conference this week will consider the proposed legislation to reform Ireland’s family-court system.
With perspectives from global legal experts, the conference aims to highlight the concerns and experiences of practitioners to better deliver justice on behalf of some of Ireland’s most vulnerable people – including children.
The keynote address will be delivered by Sir Andrew McFarlane (President of the Family Division of England and Wales) on the topic ‘Developing a family law jurisdiction – the experience in England and Wales’.
Other speakers include:
- Mrs Justice Lucy Theis (judge of the family division of England and Wales), who will speak on the role of experts in family law,
- Judge Rachel Hudson (senior circuit judge), who will discuss jurisdiction and allocation of cases,
- Lord Justice Peter Jackson (judge of the Court of Appeal of England and Wales) on hearing the voice of the child.
Speaking today, Peter Doyle (principal solicitor, Doyle Fox & Associates), who is chair of the Law Society’s Family and Child Law Committee, said: “While the publication of the Family Courts Bill is significant and welcome, we now have first-class legislation and third-world infrastructure.
“The guiding principles contained in the bill will become a false promise to litigants and their families where there is no change to the family-court infrastructure.
“Changing the name of each court without provision of appropriate resources will not solve the problem. Ireland must invest the resources necessary to ensure that its family-court system is fit for purpose, and the aspirations set out in the bill are implemented in reality.
“Crucially, the bill needs to go further to ensure that the voice of the child is heard in cases concerning their interests and welfare.
“Guardians ad litem are independent persons appointed by the Court for the duration of court proceedings relating to a child. Thebill must allow for their appointment in all cases where children are the subject of care proceedings.
“Further, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that section 8 of the bill – which sets out the principles that the courts, legal practitioners, and parties must have regard to in family-law proceedings – is purely aspirational from a legal perspective.
“There is nothing in the Bbill to indicate how the statutory obligation to have regard to certain principles can have any meaningful impact. This is particularly the case where it places obligations on parties to a family-law dispute without providing for any enforcement mechanisms,” he said.
Director General of the Law Society, Mark Garrett, said: “The Law Society focuses its policy and law-reform work on providing expert recommendations to increase access to justice for everyone in Irish society.
“Family-court reform was first promoted by the Law Reform Commission in the 1970s and is a long-standing priority for the Law Society.
“Our conference is another opportunity to highlight these issues and continue this work.
"We welcome the minister’s commitment to reform the family-justice system, and look forward to working in collaboration to ensure the implementation of this important legislation provides access to justice for families and children.”
The bill is currently at the Second Stage before the Seanad.
If enacted, some of the main changes the bill will bring about include:
- Establishment of a Family High Court,
- Family Circuit Court, and
- Family District Court, as divisions of the existing High Court, Circuit Court and District Court,
- Provision for the assignment of principal judges and other judges to the family courts.