‘Courting Disaster’ coalition calls on Government to urgently allocate funding for a dedicated Family Law Court

    Release date: 10/12/2019

    Vulnerable members of society without the most basic of facilities in Family Court, campaign group says

    Barnardos, Children’s Rights Alliance, Community Law and Mediation, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre Family Lawyers Association, FLAC, National Women’s Council Ireland, One Family, The Bar of Ireland, The Law Society and Women’s Aid have formed a coalition to highlight the archaic conditions in which family law and childcare cases are currently being heard in Ireland.

    The eleven organisations are launching the ‘Courting Disaster’ Campaign in Dublin today, calling on Government to immediately allocate the funding required to develop a dedicated Family Law Court at Hammond Lane in Smithfield in Dublin.

    It has been agreed in principle for some time that a dedicated Family Law Court is required but agreement has yet to be reached on its structure and funding. In October 2019 The Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality recommended that the necessary funding be allocated as a matter of urgency.

    In a joint statement, the Courting Disaster Campaign Group said; “A properly functioning courts system is essential to providing access to justice. Some of the most vulnerable members of society seeking to resolve family law proceedings, often arising from relationship and marital breakdown and domestic violence, are currently faced with wholly unsuitable and inconsistent court facilities where not even basic needs are met, such as separate waiting areas, family friendly spaces and consultation rooms to allow for privacy. These archaic conditions significantly increase stress and anxiety in what are typically very sensitive cases, and this can result in volatility and even violence in the course of family law litigation.

    A more effective and efficient administrative organisation of the court structure and improvement in court facilities will undoubtedly have a positive impact on the management of family law applications and lead to reductions in delays and cost which is in the interest of all parties to proceedings.

    "The site at Hammond Lane is ready and awaiting the construction of dedicated family law facilities. We are calling on Government to make the necessary funding available without any further delay, so that the deficiencies in the current family law system can begin to be addressed,” the Courting Disaster Campaign Group stated.

    In order to ensure access to justice for family court users, and to meet Ireland’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on The Rights of The Child, the Courting Disaster Campaign Group is calling for the following immediate actions;

    • Allocation of appropriate budget to develop dedicated Family Law and Children’s Court at Hammond Lane to ensure the provision of facilities that are fit for purpose to meet both current and future need.

    • Prioritisation of children including enabling the voice of the child to be heard through the provision of onsite services to assist children such as Guardian ad Litem (GAL), social workers and specialist legal advice services.

    • Provision of onsite Legal Aid Board and mediation services

    • Creation of a child-friendly environment, including large spaces to cater for children, playrooms, cafes and bright design. The court rooms should also be child-friendly environments.

    • Inclusion of large waiting areas and a sufficient number of rooms to cater for private consultations, particularly cognisant of the need to facilitate safe spaces for women and families who are experiencing domestic violence and abuse situations.

    • Provision of rooms for the delivery of ancillary family support services such as counselling and parenting supports.

    • Ensure accessibility for all users of the court including through wheelchair ramps, induction loop systems, video link for vulnerable users, supports for people with intellectual disabilities and assistance for lay litigants.

    • The final plans must be fully gender proofed to ensure that any potential gender discriminatory effects arising from those plans have been avoided and that gender equality is promoted.