Access to family law courts 'a geographical lottery', expert warns
Where a person lives has an impact on their access to the family law courts, a leading expert has said.
Dr Geoffrey Shannon, the State's special rapporteur on child protection, said there was "a real geographical lottery" when it came to how quickly cases could be heard and the type of facilities available.
There are major differences in the experiences of litigants in the Dublin metropolitan region, where there are dedicated child and family law courts, and those who live elsewhere, he said.
In many courts outside of Dublin such cases may only be listed once a month or may only be listed for the end of the day, for privacy reasons.
His comments came ahead of the Law Society's annual Family and Child Law Conference, which is due to hear calls for the Government to deliver on commitments to modernise the family law courts system.
Dr Shannon said that while there had been welcome changes to the law in recent years, such as the Children and Family Relations Act, courts infrastructure was lagging behind.
"The experience of those going through family law proceedings can often be dictated, in part, by the location of the jurisdictional court. Without a specialised family law court structure, where you live can influence the timeliness of your case and expertise available to deal with that case," he said.
"It's a real geographic lottery. In various parts of Ireland there are infrequent dates set aside specifically to deal with family law cases - monthly, in many venues.
"Given the increasing demand, this can mean waiting times of up to six months for hearings.
"This challenge flows through to facilities. Some district courts, for example, lack adequate consultation rooms. As a result, you have the situation of quite personal and emotional discussions being had between a solicitor and his or her client in corridors or outside courthouses."
Law Society director general Ken Murphy said a commitment to specialist court structures for family law matters was made in the last programme for government, but a bill relating to this commitment had yet to be published.
"Meanwhile, case-loads increase, unacceptable delays are experienced and inadequate facilities are utilised that simply can't provide for the needs of clients," he said.