Wednesday, 6 December 2000
Dáil Eireann Debate
163. Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of family law cases currently awaiting hearing by the courts; the average waiting time to have a family law case heard; the steps that are being taken to deal with the backlog of family law cases; if he has any proposals for the establishment of specific family law courts; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28849/00]
169. Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if his attention has been drawn to the fact that a Judge in Wexford Circuit Court had to sit until 11.15 p.m. on 29 November 2000 in order to try and finish a lengthy list of family law cases; his views on whether this is satisfactory; if he will consider the establishment of a separate division of the courts system to deal exclusively with family law cases and thus reduce the need for such long sittings; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28917/00]
However, I understand from the Courts Service that delays in hearing family law cases have generally been reduced and in the majority of Circuit Courts any case in which both parties are ready to proceed will be listed for hearing at the next sittings of the Circuit Court.
I also understand that there is generally no delay in provincial District Courts as applications are usually listed for the next family law sitting. There is currently a delay of nine to ten weeks in Dublin Metropolitan District Court for barring order applications. Other matters such as maintenance and custody applications take three months. Of course, emergency applications, interim barring order applications, for example, are dealt with on the day of application.
I am aware, however, that there are delays of between three and 12 months in some Circuit Court areas in family law matters. I am, of course, conscious of the emotional distress and anxiety family law cases can cause for all the parties concerned. Consequently I recently obtained Government approval for the appointment of an additional judge of the Circuit Court. This appointment will enable the President of the Circuit Court, who is, of course, responsible for the ordering of Court business, to address the problem of delays in so far as they can be attributed to the shortage of judges.
In relation to the establishment of specific family law courts, I am aware that the Courts Service shares my concerns and is committed to reducing, as far as it is within its control, any delays in hearing such cases, and to improving the facilities, information and service available to family law litigants and practitioners. To this end a committee of the Courts Service Board has been established to review the current procedure and manner in which family law cases are dealt with by the courts and to make recommendations for change thereto. As part of this review a pilot project for the reporting of family law cases will begin early next year. This will be the first time that such cases will be reported and it is hoped that this reporting will improve the information available to family law litigants and also assist the Courts  Service in its future planning for the needs of family law cases.
The duration of a court sitting is entirely a matter for the judge on the day and it would, therefore, be inappropriate for me as Minister, or, indeed, for the Courts Service to comment on that particular matter.
164. Mr. Howlin asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the training that is provided for judges hearing family law cases; if he has any plans for enhanced training in the family law area; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [28850/00]
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): The provision of training for the Judiciary is a matter for the Judicial Studies Institute which was established in 1996 to provide for the training and ongoing education of judges. My role in this regard is to support any programmes put in place by the institute through funding made available in the courts Vote which is administered by the Courts Service.
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