Family Law Changes

There has recently been a lot of discussion about possible changes to the family law system here in Ireland. One recent change is the introduction of reporting of family law matters which should be interesting as this practice develops.

Late last year the Minister for Justice addressed the Law Society in relation to proposals for a new structure for the family courts. The main structural changes proposed are that a separate family court system should be set up to deal with all family related issues. I worked in the family court system inNew Zealandwhich is a standalone and mediation based system. The Minister is proposing a two tier system, with the lower Family Court being similar to the jurisdiction of the current District Court and the Higher Family Court with an unlimited jurisdiction to deal with matters currently dealt with in the Circuit and High Court. He is proposing that specialist judges be selected and/or trained with a view to having experience in mediation and a less adversarial approach to family law issues.

It will be interesting to see what changes are made particularly in light of the financial restrictions that the Minister will face. I believe it would be possible to implement the system without causing huge increases in cost. It would free up District Court Judges to deal with criminal and civil matters alone. The current work load in relation to family law would be taken over by specialist family Judges with the training and ability to provide a more user friendly and suitable family court system.

The Minster also suggested – and it has now been implemented – that laws in relation to privacy and the in camera rule be relaxed. This does not allow individuals to be identified but does provide information to users of the court system and the operation of the law in this area. Reporting of the outcome may bring some transparency and certainty to Family Law and how it operates.

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