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Question

380. Deputy Jonathan O'Brien asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the Courts Service of Ireland has conducted best practice research into the management of children and family services in the courts in other jurisdictions. [12926/15]

Answer

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): As the Deputy is aware, the Courts Service Act 1998 provides that management of the courts is the responsibility of the Courts Service which is independent in exercising its functions, which includes the management of services in the Courts.
However, in order to be of assistance I have had enquiries made and the Courts Service informs me that in terms of the delivery of family services, it recognises the importance of adopting an integrated approach to the resolution of disputes other than through the formal processes of the courts with the consequential benefits to those personally involved in disputes and those close to them, particularly children within relationships. There are also considerable societal benefits associated with resolving disputes other than within the adversarial environs of the courts. The Courts Service in cooperation with the Legal Aid Board and the Family Mediation Service have introduced, for example, a mediation initiative in the areas of access, custody and guardianship at the main District Court family law court office in Dolphin House offering information on mediation to persons who have made contact with the office with a view to issuing proceedings. A formal mediation process is then offered to parties willing to engage thus avoiding the personal turmoil and stress associated with formal court hearings. This initiative has been particularly successful and is now being extended to other selected offices. The Service, within the resources available, regularly cooperate with other state agencies and Non- Governmental Organisations in developing new initiatives particularly in the area of family law.
The Courts Service has confirmed that it has taken best practice in other jurisdictions into account in reviewing family law issues, for example, the Pilot project carried out on Family Law reporting in October 2007 and more recently the submission of the Family Law Court Development Committee of the Courts Service Board on a new Family Court Structure.
My Department had initiated a consultation process with interested parties in relation to the establishment of family law courts and in that regard hosted a seminar in July 2013 to discuss how such courts might operate. An eminent judge from the Australian Family Court attended the seminar and shared experiences of their system. The current position is that my Department is finalising proposals for future legislation based on the outcome of the seminar, submissions received and ongoing consultations with interested parties. I intend to bring proposals to establish the new Family Court to Government as soon as they have been finalised. The draft General Scheme of the Bill will then be subject to the usual pre-legislative scrutiny by the Justice Committee.