Legislation to be introduced to ensure greater transparency in family law cases
Speaking on Topical Issue Debates in the Dáil this evening (Wednesday), Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, raised the issue of the delays being experienced in family court hearings and the negative impact it is having on women and children, with the Minister for Justice, Equality & Defence, Alan Shatter TD.
Deputy Mitchell O’Connor said she had been approached by a number of constituents, leading family solicitors and women’s organisations who claim that there is also a serious backlog in maintenance applications, some of which span to more than a year.
“The picture that is being painted by the people who have been in contact with me is of a system in complete disarray, with many women and children living on the edge. People have told me they are waiting up to a year for dates for emergency maintenance applications, which I find completely unacceptable.
“Reports are that criminal cases are taking precedence over family law cases and that judges of the Circuit Court in Dublin in particular are being regularly seconded away from urgent family law hearings to sit in the criminal courts. Most recently, it was brought to my attention that a judge was taken from the family law Circuit Court at Phoenix House to hear a high profile case involving a millionaire and his personal assistant.
“The situation for those who are faced with family law proceedings is that even when dates are given for family law case hearings, particularly maintenance applications on behalf of women and children, they are repeatedly being adjourned. On 27th June, 175 case were adjourned from the family court. On 6th March, the same applied to 85 cases.
“Minister Shatter said he was not aware of a backlog of family law cases that were awaiting hearing or of a delay in the provision of emergency maintenance funds. He went on to say that procedures are available for interim maintenance orders and that cases that are experiencing delays should be brought to his attention, which I plan to do.
“The Minister is aware that deficiencies exist in relation to family law, especially where children are concerned. He recognises the absence of supports in addressing child welfare issues following relationship break downs and acknowledged that there are no adequate support services available to the Circuit or the High Court in this area. Legislation is being planned to improve family law, including the in-camera rule, to ensure greater transparency of future proceedings while maintaining the privacy of those at the centre of disputes, which should improve the situation for those involved considerably.”