Law Society slams ‘third world infrastructure’ for family justice

Law Society slams 'third world infrastructure' for family justice

Helen Coughlan

Ireland has been left with “third world infrastructure” in the family courts and urgent investment is needed to prevent children and vulnerable people from paying the price, the Law Society of Ireland has said.

Helen Coughlan, chair of the Law Society’s family and child law committee, said the general scheme of the Family Law Bill 2020 had adopted many of the Law Society’s recommendations, but it needs to be backed up with significant investment in both infrastructure and personnel.

Ms Coughlan said she is “deeply concerned about the proposal to expand the jurisdiction of the overstretched District Court” and called for “urgent investment in the appropriate technology to reduce the volume of cases waiting to be heard”.

“It is unacceptable that children and the most vulnerable in our society will continue to bear the impact of insufficient resources. We all have a constitutional right to access justice but due to growing backlogs, we are failing generations of children in Ireland,” she said.

“All good legislation needs adequate resourcing and yet proposals to ascertain the voice of the child and regulations in respect of expert reports, which are financially inaccessible to many, are absent from this bill. We need to ensure that the voice of the child is heard in cases concerning their interests, safety and welfare.”

The Law Society argues that Ireland is “lagging behind” the rest of Europe in terms of specialised family or children’s court systems, and has legal concerns about the proposed new structure.

Ms Coughlan said: “The proposal to remove the High Court from the family justice system will result in the loss of jurisprudence. We urge a rethink on this action that will detrimentally impact on the practice of Irish family law which would no longer benefit from earlier written judgements.”

She concluded: “The Family Court Bill has the potential to radically overhaul the Irish family justice system. This legislation must be progressed with the urgency and investment it deserves. Ireland’s children and families deserve nothing less.

“The Law Society will continue to work alongside and engage with the Department of Justice to help achieve a family justice system that is fit for purpose.

“Without sufficient resourcing however, we will be dealing with the lingering effects of under-resourcing before and during the pandemic on the family courts system for many years to come.”

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