PLANS for a two-tier family court system staffed by specialist judges experienced in family law have been outlined by the Justice Minister.
Alan Shatter told a Law Society conference yesterday that a referendum aimed at overhauling the family law system will be held next year.
"The proposal is that this new court would be exclusively presided over by a dedicated judiciary, specialised and expert in family law," he said.
"I realise this, for some, is a controversial proposal but I feel strongly that it is a necessary measure . . .
"Family breakdown and parenting disputes are particularly sensitive and painful and their determination involves completely different skills from those required to hear a criminal trial or adjudicate in civil and commercial matters."
He proposed a two-tier system. A lower court would have jurisdiction over family law and childcare issues. The higher court would have unlimited jurisdiction over all family law matters, including adoption and child abduction.
Mr Shatter said the new family court would be "entirely separate".
"I have to concede in the current climate it may take some years to achieve all of those objectives. But my clear aim is to strive for the excellence we are familiar with in other jurisdictions," he said.
Mr Shatter acknowledged that the current system is "not ideal". He also criticised the ban on press reporting of family law cases – which he is in the process of changing.