The Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Mr Dermot Ahern, T.D., has signed into law new Court rules to facilitate supervision by County Registrars of the preparation for trial of family law proceedings in the Circuit Court. The rules will come into effect from Wednesday, 1 October 2008.

The purpose of case progression will be to ensure that proceedings are prepared for trial in a manner which is just, expeditious and likely to minimise the costs of the proceedings and that the time and other resources of the court are employed optimally. The new rules assign to the County Registrar, the functions of

• overseeing preparation of family law cases for trial in the Circuit Court
• generally monitoring the progress of the case pre-trial
• making final arrangements for the trial

The County Registrar, under the new rules, is empowered

• to establish what steps remain to be taken to prepare the case for trial
• to fix a timetable for the completion of its preparation for trial.
• to adopt any timetable proposed by the parties if satisfied that it is reasonable
• to give or make a range of pre-trial directions eg. the vouching of items in an affidavit of means
• to identify the issues in dispute between the parties and orders at the hearing
• to award or disallow costs of the case progression hearing.

Announcing the changes, the Minister said: "These new rules are in addition to a number of important changes that have taken place in recent times in the rules of practice and procedure in family law in the Circuit Court. I would like to pay tribute to the Circuit Court Rules Committee for the initiatives they have taken in these areas."

County Registrars are at present empowered to make a range of pre-trial orders, including discovery, and may, provided the parties are legally capacitated, make orders ruling settlements.

The volume of pre-trial motions in family law cases in the Circuit Court is considerable. The new rules will help to relieve Circuit Court judges of a large pre-trial applications caseload, freeing them up for trial work.

Each representative of a party attending the case progression hearing will be required to ensure that (s)he is sufficiently familiar with the proceedings and has authority from the party (s)he represents to deal with any matters that are likely to be dealt with.  The County Registrar can, where it is considered necessary or desirable, direct that the parties themselves attend the hearing in addition to their representatives.

The new rules are supported by provision he made in the recently enacted Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2008 which allows County Registrars to support a County Registrar in another Circuit. The provision is aimed at County Registrars in high case load counties such as Dublin.
18 September 2008