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Judge warns of dangers at family court

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Dolphin House

Dolphin House

Dolphin House

THE President of the District Court has raised serious and shocking safety concerns about a court venue that is most frequently used by vulnerable women and children.

Judge Rosemary Horgan has spoken about how Dublin's family law court at Dolphin House, on East Essex Street, is unsafe, due to a "serious security deficit".

Cases heard at the court can include highly emotionally-charged and bitter family disputes.

Judge Horgan revealed her view that there was "serious risk of a serious incident" at Dolphin House in a previously unreleased document sent to the Courts Service, obtained by the Herald.

"Every person using a court building is entitled to a safe environment.

"The restoration of two permanently assigned members of An Garda Siochana to Dolphin House is a welcome development," she said.

"However, there remains a serious security deficit. There are no security checks or scans in Dolphin House such as in the Criminal Courts of Justice and the Four Courts."

The judge said that given the types of emotionally-charged cases in the building there were concerns for people appearing before that court.

Emotions

"Given the heightened emotions etc in both private and public law cases, there is a serious risk of serious incidents occurring in the waiting areas, public offices, or courtrooms involving the public and staff.

"Security checks would reduce that risk," she said.

The concerns were presented in a document on the since-abandoned plans to close the capital's four district courts.

The closure plan was discarded in September, following widespread opposition from members of the judiciary, gardai and politicians.

In her role, Judge Horgan is head of the district court system across the country. She was appointed by President Michael D Higgins in June 2012.

Margaret Martin, the director of Women's Aid, a charity that helps women who are the victims of abuse, said that the court had been seriously under resourced for years.

"The women who are being abused and are using the court are often victims of very violent and very abusive men," she said.

Ms Martin said that workers with the charity who attend the court with vulnerable women had been threatened and intimidated at the court.

"The atmosphere can be very tense and stressful. The level of threat can escalate when women go and look for legal protection," she said.

On December 12, the Office of Public Works (OPW) revealed that a site at Hammond Lane had been chosen for a new family law courts building in Dublin.

However it could be years before the site is developed.

lbyrne@herald.ie


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