107. Deputy Pa Daly asked the Minister for Justice her plans to reform family law facilities outside of Dublin; and her plans in relation to family law facilities in regional towns and cities. [51079/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Heather Humphreys): I can assure the Deputy that family law reform is a major element of my Department's Justice Plan 2021. The forthcoming Family Court Bill will provide for a dedicated Family Court structure, as set out in the Programme for Government. This Bill intends to create a new dedicated Family Court within the existing court structure and provide for court procedures that support a faster and less adversarial resolution of disputes in specialised centres.
In September 2020, the Government approved the drafting of a Family Court Bill along the lines of the General Scheme, which has been published. In the preparation of the General Scheme, account has been taken of the Report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality on the Reform of the Family Law System, published in October 2019. The General Scheme has been referred to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for drafting and to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice for pre-legislative scrutiny.
This significant piece of legislation will be a key element of the development of a more efficient and user-friendly family court system that puts families at the centre of its activities, provides access to specialist supports and encourages the use of alternative dispute resolution in family law proceedings. The development of sensible, comprehensive and sensitive family law procedures, particularly for vulnerable families, will be central to the new system.
My Department has also established a Family Justice Oversight Group to agree a high-level vision and key medium and longer-term objectives for the development of a national family justice system in parallel with the establishment of a dedicated Family Court structure as envisaged by the Family Court Bill. The Courts Service is represented on that group, as is the Legal Aid Board.
The Courts Service launched its Modernisation Programme in the first Quarter of 2021. One of the four pillars of that Programme is to modernise the current family law structures and one of its goals is the development of a user centric family law service to meet the provisions of the Family Courts Bill. The Programme’s family law pillar will look to reform how services are delivered to family law court users by developing new ICT systems, reforming practices and procedures and delivering services in more family law user centric facilities.
I understand that preliminary work has been carried out by the Courts Service to identify courthouses around the country that can best accommodate the new family law regional structures but that no decisions have yet been made on these locations. As the Deputy will be aware, under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, management of the courts, including court accommodation, is the responsibility of the Courts Service, which is independent in exercising its functions.