Chaotic family courts suffering with inexperienced judges, says Shatter
Published 06/03/2010 | 05:00
THE family law courts are a "dysfunctional system operating in a chaotic manner", a legal conference has heard.
Fine Gael TD and leading family lawyer, Alan Shatter, said that while some judges were tremendously dedicated, too many were "thrown into the frontline" and were adjudicating over cases they had little experience in.
Addressing the National Mediation Conference in Trinity College Dublin yesterday, Mr Shatter said there was a need for a radical overhaul of the current family law system.
"In the area of family law and, in particular, in our courts' system we have what I regard as a dysfunctional court system that operates in a chaotic manner and is presided over at all levels of the court. . . by some members of the judiciary who shouldn't be allowed within a million miles of adjudicating on family disputes."
He said some family law judges were being asked to decide cases having had little background in the area.
"There are too many who simply, after their appointment as judges, having had little or no experience of that in their practices, are thrown into the frontline and are immediately adjudicating on areas of law that they not only have no experience of, but have no insight into."
He said the family law system could greatly exacerbate family disputes and ensure children at risk were left for too long in difficult circumstances.
He called for a radical overhaul of the system, which should include the introduction of an in-court mediation service.
Mr Shatter said courts should not be able to enforce mediation on warring couples and said that both sides must be willing participants, otherwise the reluctant person could be seen as an obstruction in finding a resolution.
Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness, President of the Law Reform Commission, said it was the commission's view that mediation not be forced on a couple but be entered into willingly by both sides.