A new Family Court Bill is to provide for the establishment of a District Family Court, a Circuit Family Court, and a Family High Court as divisions within existing court structures.
The Minister for Justice Helen McEntee (pictured) announced today (30 September) that the Government had backed the drafting of the bill.
She said that the changes would lead to the development of a more efficient and user-friendly family court system, which would include “sensible, comprehensive and sensitive” procedures, particularly for vulnerable families.
The bill, a commitment to which was included in the Programme for Government, creates a new dedicated Family Court within the existing court structure, and is aimed at allowing court procedures to support a less adversarial resolution of disputes.
Judges with specialist knowledge of family law will be appointed on a full-time basis to both the District Family Court and the Circuit Family Court for renewable terms of three years.
The bill will also create new positions of Principal Judge of the District Family Court, Circuit Family Court, and Family High Court.
The department says that the District Family Court could exercise jurisdiction in “straightforward and non-contentious" cases that require court orders, and which can be successfully resolved through mediation. The Circuit Family Court would deal with complex or contested family law cases.
The Family High Court will have jurisdiction over adoption, child abduction and special-care cases, as well as dealing with cases stated, and appeals.
Minister McEntee has also set up a Family Justice Oversight Group to coordinate the development of a national family justice service.
The group will be chaired by a senior official of the Department of Justice and Equality, and will include representatives from the judiciary, the Courts Service, the Legal Aid Board, and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.
The text of the General Scheme can be found on the website of the Department of Justice and Equality at: Family Court Bill General Scheme (September 2020).