Referendum to establish family law court to be held in 2014
A REFERENDUM to establish a dedicated family law court staffed with specialist judges will be held next year according to Justice Minister Alan Shatter.
The integrated court will streamline family law courts and will be presided over by a dedicated judiciary "specialised and expert" in family law.
Mr Shatter, speaking this morning at a consultative seminar on a new structure for family courts, said that the new court should be entirely separate with separate venues, adequate private consultation rooms and a co-located welfare and assessment service to support both private and public law proceedings together with in court mediation facilities.
But he warned that this could take several years to achieve in the current climate.
Legislation to facilitate a referendum on the establishment of a Court of Civil Appeal will be published next week.
Mr Shatter said that there had been very limited progress since the 1996 Law Reform Commission report on family law, but said that it was incumbent on the Government to be ambitious.
"Families in crisis, children whose welfare and development are a matter of controversy and children in need of care and protection deserve no less," said Mr Shatter who extended a welcome to Ms Justice Judith Ryan, from the Family Court of Australia.
The concept of specialist family law courts has not met with universal support and Mr Shatter acknowledged that his proposal is "controversial".
The Government envisages a two tier court system, one with limited jurisdiction and one with unlimited jurisdiction.
But this structure may lead to difficulties with appeals and constitutional challenges.
Other issues include whether dedicated family judges should serve only as family judges or whether they should be able to transfer to other courts.
New laws to relax the in camera (privacy) rule in family law cases is currently being progressed through the Oireachtas.
The Courts Bill 2013 will allow bona ride members of the press to attend and report family law proceedings whilst respecting the privacy of parties.