Department of Education & Skills, Marlborough Street, Dublin D01 RC96 mary.mitchelloconnor@oir.ie 01-8892199

Separate Family Court would ensure greater privacy and speedier resolution

Statistics on number of adjourned maintenance applications not recorded.

Fine Gael Dun Laoghaire Deputy, Mary Mitchell O’Connor, has welcomed the Government’s approval, in principle, for a referendum to be held on the restructuring of the Courts, which if approved would see the establishment of a new, separate Family Court structure. Following on from representations made to her about delays in family court hearings, Deputy Mitchell O’Connor put a series of Parliamentary Questions to the Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter TD, to determine the extent of the situation.

“I questioned the Minister for Justice in the Dáil last week about the delays being experienced in family court hearings, especially where the backlog in maintenance applications is concerned. There are reports of some families being forced to wait more than a year for their case to be heard.

“The Justice Minister has confirmed to me that no record is kept of the number of maintenance applications that are adjourned but that the Court Service has informed him that urgent applications are dealt with at the next court sitting. The Minister also said it is the intention of the newly appointed President of the District Court to assess all backlogs and waiting times with a view to seeing how cases can be dealt with more quickly.

“As it stands, hearings for contested family law cases in the Circuit Court are taking up to 30 months in Wexford, with a four month wait in Dublin. Waiting times for maintenance and guardianship applications in the District Court are spanning to 17 weeks in Letterkenny and approximately 10 weeks in Dublin. The problem, however, is that in a large number of situations, cases are being adjourned, leaving families in limbo and dragging what can be emotional and stressful proceedings out indefinitely. With no formal record of adjournments being kept, the extent of the problem is unknown.

“Following a number of judicial retirements and promotions to other courts in the last 12 month period, which gave rise to 15 vacancies on the Circuit Court and the District Court, the Minister has told me that all vacancies have now been filled. The Court Service has indicated that it is not aware of a high number of unheard maintenance applications and the Minister has expressed his willingness to make enquiries if evidence to the contrary is presented to him.

“Family court proceedings can be harrowing affairs, which can have an enormous impact not only on the adults involved but on the children at the centre of the case. If a separate family Court was established, I have no doubt that a superior service would be available to families, which would enable them to deal with and resolve their business in a speedier and more private way.”