90. Deputy Josepha Madigan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the steps he is taking to shorten delays in family courts (details supplied); and if he will provide statistics regarding the delays being experienced in each of the courts and the next available hearing dates for same. [32689/17]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): As the Deputy is aware, under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, management of the courts is the responsibility of the Courts Service which is independent in exercising its functions, which include the provision of information on the courts system.
However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had enquiries made and the Courts Service has informed me that emergency applications such as protection orders and interim barring orders are prioritised. Such applications are usually granted, where the Court so decides, on the date the application is made to the Court. Therefore, there are no delays in dealing with these applications.
The Courts Service has also informed me that delays in the hearing of cases can occur for a number of reasons, many of which are outside the control of the Courts and the Courts Service, for example, the unavailability of a witness or vital evidence, delays in the furnishing of reports or because the parties and/or legal practitioners are not ready to proceed on allocated dates. This gives rise to adjournments which can have a major impact on the time taken to complete the hearing of a case and on the number of cases which can be disposed of in a court sitting.
The Deputy will be aware of the range of new legislation in the family law area introduced by the Government in 2015 and 2016 and further legislative initiatives are planned. These developments required the Courts Service to provide additional courts facilities, particularly in Dublin, for the hearing of family law and childcare applications. Overall the number of courtrooms dedicated to District Court family law in Dublin increased from 5 to 7 since October 2016 with a consequential positive impact on waiting times.
My Department is currently working on a number of legislative initiatives in the family law area. The purpose of the Domestic Violence Bill 2017 is to consolidate and reform the law on domestic violence to provide better protection for victims. The Bill is a key element of the Second National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence and will assist in enabling Ireland to ratify the Council of Europe’s Convention on Combating Domestic Violence and Gender-based Violence (the Istanbul Convention). The Bill is currently at Committee Stage in the Seanad.
The Government is committed to significant reform of the courts, including the establishment of a family law court structure that is streamlined, more efficient, and less costly. My Department is working on the General Scheme of a Family Court Bill which will aim to streamline family law court processes, clarify jurisdictional issues and provide for a set of guiding principles to help ensure that the Family Court will operate in a user-friendly and efficient manner. The intention is to establish a dedicated Family Court within the existing court structures. The Family Court Bill will support the proposals in the Mediation Bill 2017 by encouraging greater use of alternative dispute resolution to assist in more timely resolution of family law cases.
The Department is currently engaged in further consultation with relevant stakeholders in relation to the operational aspects of a new Family Court structure. It is hoped to secure Government's approval for the General Scheme of a Family Court Bill in the coming months. Once the General Scheme has been approved by Government, it will be referred to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for drafting and will be subject to the usual pre-legislative scrutiny by the relevant Oireachtas Committee. While it is not possible at this time to indicate when the Bill will be published, it is intended that the General Scheme will be published later this year following its approval by Government.
The Courts Service has advised that waiting times in family law actions in the High Court are heard within 3 months while waiting times the Circuit Court and District Court are listed in the table, noting that waiting times for family law hearings in the District Court and Circuit Court are collated on a Court office basis rather than on an individual court basis.
Circuit Court Family Law - Waiting Times in months - June 2017
|Office||Family Law||Family Law||Family Law|
|Carlow||Next sitting||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Carrick on Shannon||6||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Castlebar||Next sitting||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Cavan||6||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Clonmel||Next sitting||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Cork||6-9||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Galway||Next sitting||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Kilkenny||6||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Limerick||Next sitting||Next sitting||3-6|
|Longford||Next sitting||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Monaghan||Next sitting||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Mullingar||6||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Portlaoise||Next sitting||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Roscommon||Next sitting||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Sligo||Next sitting||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Tralee||Next sitting||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Tullamore||6||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Waterford||3-6||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|* 3 months for a guaranteed priority hearing, 5 months for a possible hearing (if priority case settles or does not proceed)|
|Family Law||Family Law|
|Office||Domestic Violence Applications (1)||Maintenance/ Guardianship Applications (2)|
|Athlone||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Ballina||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Carrick on Shannon||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Donegal||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Mallow||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Monaghan||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Roscommon||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Sligo||Next sitting||Next sitting|
|Youghal||Next sitting||Next sitting|
(1) Time in weeks from receipt of application to listing for hearing in domestic violence matters.
(2) Time in weeks from receipt of application to listing for hearing for other family law applications.