REPORTERS will be allowed to cover family law cases for the first time under new laws planned by the Government.
They have been traditionally barred from covering such cases under privacy rules.
But under a new law, journalists will be able to report on them with certain restrictions. These mainly apply to making sure that children or the parties involved are not identified.
The changes are proposed under the Courts Bill 2013, published by Justice Minister Alan Shatter.
The media can, however, still be excluded, by court order, from reporting cases or have their attendance restricted under a range of exclusions, including identification or commercially sensitive issues.
Journalists and publishers will also face penalties of up to €50,000 and/or a three-year jail term for breaches of the new law.
The Courts Bill 2013 will also see the monetary jurisdiction of the District and Circuit Civil courts lifted, a move the Government says will reduce legal costs.
The monetary limit for civil matters in the Circuit Court is €38,092 and €6,384 for the District Court. Those will be raised to €75,000 for the Circuit Court and €15,000 for the District Court.
The new changes could also have a major impact on defamation and personal injuries litigation as more actions are moved to the lower courts.
Mr Shatter has ruled out the appointment of new judges for the lower courts to deal with the anticipated increase in cases.
He capped the limit for personal injuries actions in the Circuit Court to €60,000 on foot of "concerns relating to possible inflation of awards and a consequent effect on insurance costs". Concerns about a possible inflationary impact on awards were raised most recently by the Irish Insurance Federation, according to Mr Shatter, who said that he believed the courts would apply "constraint" in making awards despite the new ceilings.
The Government said the changes in jurisdiction levels would result in fewer cases in the High Court.
Ken Murphy, director general of the Law Society, the ruling body for solicitors, said that the only concern was that the District and Circuit Courts would have enough resources to deal with the additional pressure.
"The changes will unquestionably require the appointment of more judges and courts staff," said Mr Murphy.
The Bar Council, the ruling body for barristers, said it was in favour of the increase in monetary jurisdiction, but had a "genuine concern" that the judiciary is properly resourced to deal with the new changes.
"It is a positive step," said David Nolan, chairman of the Bar Council.