Welcome new strategy for family justice reform but much work needed to deliver a truly child-centered system
Community Law & Mediation (CLM) welcomes the commitment in the Family Justice Strategy, published today by the Department of Justice, to place children at the centre of reform but cautions that the delivery of a truly child-centered family justice system cannot be achieved without consistent application of this commitment, including in the newly published Family Court Bill. CLM, which provides a dedicated children’s legal advice and advocacy service, was a member of the expert advisory group on the Family Justice Strategy.
Commenting on the announcement, Ruth Barry, solicitor specialising in children’s law at CLM said:
“Family law proceedings are often highly adversarial and can be re-traumatising for both children and other family members. We welcome the new strategy, in particular the commitment to place children at the centre of reform. While the strategy does not yet fully address problematic areas like civil legal aid, expert reports furnished to court or hearing the voice of the child, it provides a framework for moving forward.
The express recognition of children’s best interests in the Family Court Bill is particularly welcome, as is the intention to create a dedicated Family Court within the existing court structure but we have some concerns about how this will be delivered in practice. Jurisdiction in private family law is determined based on the financial assets of the family and the Bill contains no provision for complex high conflict private family law cases – where care of a child or children is the source of the complexity – to be directed to the Circuit Court. This will be at odds with complex childcare proceedings concerning child protection.
Furthermore, the Bill doesn’t provide for the separation of public and private family law proceedings in the court lists of the new family law courts with the effect that families and children who are in court to address child protection issues may have their cases listed alongside families and children who are in court to address custody and access.
CLM would welcome a review of the Family Court Bill from the perspective of the child’s experience – a review based on the child being at the centre of all reform in the area – in order that we ensure we set solid foundations for this reform process and start as we mean to continue.”
For further information please contact Elizabeth Devine, Policy & Communications Manager, Community Law & Mediation – ph 087 697 5677
Notes to Editor:
About Community Law & Mediation
Community Law & Mediation (CLM) was established in 1975 as the first independent community law centre in Ireland, as part of the campaign for civil legal aid. Today, is support more than 4,400 people in communities experiencing disadvantage through free legal advice and representation; information and education; and mediation and conflict coaching services. It provides a dedicated children’s legal advice and advocacy service, including an outreach clinic for children and young people in care, in collaboration EPIC. www.communitylawandmediation.ie