Submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice on the General Scheme of the Family Court Bill 2021

In February, we were invited to make a submission to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice on the General Scheme of the Family Court Bill 2021.

In our submission, we made the following recommendations:

In order to ensure the new Family Courts are both family and child-friendly, waiting room space and ADR venues separate from other civil and criminal law matters should be provided:

  • Any new facilities being developed as part of the Family Court system should be specifically designed to be both family and child friendly. Ancillary supports should form part of any new court infrastructure. This includes provision for crèche facilities, translators and private consultation rooms.
  • The proposed Rules Committee should be tasked with ensuring that the language used in the Family Court system, including all existing and new material, is child-centred and accessible. Informality utilised in the Children’s Court should be applied to Family Court in order to reduce negative impact of adversarial context.
  • In the absence of a review of civil legal aid eligibility criteria, every effort should be made to ensure that the Family Court system is accessible to lay litigants. Forms should be clear and in plain English. Clear information on the process and procedure of the Family Court system should be readily available to lay litigants. Accommodations must also be made for family members who do not speak English as a first language or who have learning difficulties.
  • Specialist training should be stipulated for all judges, solicitors and barristers working in the Family Court system and must address communication with children and how to ensure a child`s voice is heard.
  • Selection criteria for judges should also be more specific and make greater reference to the nature of training undertaken by judges.
  • Supports should be implemented to ensure children can engage in proceedings if they wish to do so. This includes the introduction of guidelines in respect of the circumstances in which judges should meet with children, a shift towards more child-friendly language and the introduction of interdisciplinary strategies in family law proceedings.
  • Provision should be made for Child Court Liaison Officers in the Bill.
  • The Rules Committee should be tasked with the development of measures to ensure that Judges are empowered to make orders in respect of parenting plans, engagement with anger management treatment or to facilitate and monitor access arrangements.
  • Guidance and training should also be provided on the appropriateness of mediation in different family circumstances.

Read our submission in full here.