Law Society warns of ‘third-world’ family law infrastructure
Legislation providing for the establishment of a Family Court as divisions within the existing Irish court structures requires significant improvement and will fail without greater investment, the Law Society has said.
Peter Doyle, principal solicitor at Doyle Fox & Associates and chair of the Law Society’s family and child law committee, warned that Ireland now has “first-class legislation and third-world infrastructure”.
His remarks come ahead of the Law Society’s family law conference this Friday 14 July, which will be addressed by international speakers including Sir Andrew McFarlane, president of the Family Division of England and Wales.
The conference will also hear from other senior judges in England and Wales, including Mrs Justice Lucy Theis of the Family Division, senior circuit judge Judge Rachel Hudson, and Lord Justice Peter Jackson of the Court of Appeal.
Speaking ahead of the conference, Mr Doyle said the guiding principles of the Family Courts Bill “will become a false promise to litigants and their families where there is no change to the family court infrastructure”.
He explained: “Changing the name of each court without provision of appropriate resources will not solve the problem. Ireland must invest the resources necessary to ensure that its family court system is fit for purpose and the aspirations set out in the Bill are implemented in reality.”
Mr Doyle added: “Crucially, the bill needs to go further to ensure that the voice of the child is heard in cases concerning their interests and welfare. Guardians ad litem are independent persons appointed by the court for the duration of court proceedings relating to a child — the bill must allow for their appointment in all cases where children are the subject of care proceedings.
“Further, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that section 8 of the bill — which sets out the principles that the courts, legal practitioners, and parties must have regard to in family law proceedings — is purely aspirational from a legal perspective. There is nothing in the bill to indicate how the statutory obligation to have regard to certain principles can have any meaningful impact. This is particularly the case where it places obligations on parties to a family law dispute without providing for any enforcement mechanisms.”
Mark Garrett, director-general of the Law Society, said: “The Law Society focuses its policy and law reform work on providing expert recommendations to increase access to justice for everyone in Irish society.
“Family court reform was first promoted by the Law Reform Commission in the 1970s and is a long-standing priority for the Law Society. Our conference is another opportunity to highlight these issues and continue this work.
“We welcome the minister’s commitment to reform the family justice system and look forward to working in collaboration to ensure the implementation of this important legislation provides access to justice for families and children.”