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Question

433. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if guidance will be provided on the operation of a court order during the Covid-19 outbreak (details supplied); and if he will make a statement on the matter. [5576/20]

Answer

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): I appreciate the concerns that the public health emergency is causing for many families in relation to court orders for matters such as access, maintenance and guardianship. 
The Deputy will appreciate that setting the terms of court orders and related proceedings are matters proper to the judiciary.  Neither I nor my department are involved in such matters.
I believe it is important to point out that court orders in relation to access remain in place.  Everyone should understand that the restrictions brought in to tackle Covid-19 do not stop them being implemented, and should not be used as an excuse by either party. 
The regulations made by the Minister for Health, which came into effect on Wednesday 8 April, recognise the right of a parent, guardian, or person having a right of access to a child to leave their home in order to give effect to arrangements for access by that person or for another parent, guardian or person having such right of access.
Clearly during this time there may be instances where it is impossible for couples to adhere strictly to the terms of an Order, and the President of the District Court recently clarified that parents could come to mutually agreed arrangements for alternative contact, which could involve phone calls, or skype etc., such agreement being noted by email or text message.
It is also important to note that if parties cannot agree on an alternative arrangement, mediation services are still available and should be used.  The Family Mediation Service of the Legal Aid Board is offering free telephone mediation and conflict coaching. More details about this service can be found at www.legalaidboard.ie, while other free parent support services which provide help and advice are available from www.onefamily.ie and www.treoir.ie
The Judiciary and the Courts Service have advised that the District Court will continue to hear urgent matters in all District Court Districts throughout the country as before, and will resume hearings of certain other urgent matters.  Urgent matters are now extended to include additional areas in Criminal, Family, and Child Care Law.  In the area of Family Law the President of the District Court announced 8 May changes for matters which can be dealt with. 
These include the following:
- Applications and hearings for breach of maintenance or access that have occurred during the emergency period or applications and hearings for temporary guardianship orders.
- Remote call-overs and hearings may be conducted in some courts.
- Consent orders that do not require the hearing of evidence may be applied for by email by the applicant’s solicitor exhibiting consent in writing from the respondent’s solicitor.
Following consideration by an assigned Judge orders will issue from the Court Office as appropriate without the need for the parties or their legal representatives to attend court.
In the current exceptional circumstances, while court offices are still open, they are only open for essential business, and by appointment only.  According to the Practice Direction of the President of the District Court, a case which does not come into the defined urgent category can be treated as urgent if a good case can be made, and this will be decided, by the Court, on a case by case basis.  The full details of the statement from the President of the District Court can be found on the website of the Courts Service.
I hope this information is of some help to families and I would like to emphasise that I am appealing to everyone to remember at all times that the welfare of the child is paramount.