Reform of Family Justice System announced by Minister McEntee



30 September, 2020


The Minister for Justice, Helen McEntee TD,  has today announced that she has secured Government approval for the drafting of a Family Court Bill.


The General Scheme of the Family Court Bill provides for the establishment of a District Family Court, a Circuit Family Court and a Family High Court as divisions within the existing court structures.


Minister McEntee is determined that her reforms of the family justice system will lead to the development of a more efficient and user-friendly family court system that puts families at the centre of its activities and will:



The Programme for Government contains a commitment to enact a Family Court Bill to create a new dedicated Family Court within the existing court structure and provide for court procedures that support a less adversarial resolution of disputes. The overall aim is to change the culture so that the focus of the family justice system meets the complex needs of people who need help with family justice issues.


Minister McEntee said:


The Government is fully committed to modernising the family law system in Ireland. We will introduce a new Family Court Bill and develop a dedicated family court system. The development of sensible, comprehensive and sensitive family law procedures, particularly for vulnerable families, will be central to the new system.


“The proposals in the General Scheme of the Family Court Bill are a result of a broad consideration as to the best means of providing access to various family law mechanisms available to those families involved in private family law cases.


“The publication of the General Scheme is a first step in an ongoing process of improving how people are able to resolve family-based problems that require a legal solution.”


Minister McEntee has established a Family Justice Oversight Group which has been tasked with driving progress on the development of a national family justice service.  This Group will function at a high strategic level and will coordinate delivery of the various elements of the project. 


Consideration of the recommendations in the Report of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Reform of the Family Law System will be integrated into the work of the group.


Membership of the Oversight Group, chaired by a senior official of the Department of Justice and Equality, includes representatives from the key State actors including the judiciary, the Courts Service, the Legal Aid Board and the Department of Children and Youth Affairs.


The text of the General Scheme can be found on the website of the Department of Justice and Equality at: Family Court Bill General Scheme (September 2020)




Notes to Editors


  1. The General Scheme of the Family Court Bill provides for the establishment of a District Family Court, a Circuit Family Court and a Family High Court as divisions within the existing court structures.


  1. Judges will be appointed on a full-time basis to both the District Family Court and the Circuit Family Court for renewable terms of 3 years. Specialist knowledge and ongoing professional training in the area of family law would be required to be appointed as a Family Court judge.


  1. The new positions of Principal Judge of the District Family Court, Circuit Family Court and Family High Court would be created to ensure proper and effective management of the Family Court.


  1. The General Scheme proposes to change the jurisdiction of the courts in judicial separation, divorce and dissolution of civil partnership proceedings, as well as cases taken by cohabitants, to enable jurisdiction to be exercised by the District Family Court and Circuit Family Court.


  1. If straightforward and non-contentious cases which require court orders can be successfully resolved through mediation, the District Family Court could exercise jurisdiction in such cases.  It is intended that the Circuit Family Court would deal with complex or contested family law cases.


  1. The jurisdiction of the courts under the Child Care Act 1991 will be changed to allow more complex child care cases to be brought to the Circuit Family Court. 


  1. The Family High Court will have jurisdiction over adoption, child abduction and special care cases, as well as dealing with cases stated and appeals


  1. The District Family Court will be able to transfer complex or lengthy cases to the Circuit Family Court. It will also be open to the Circuit Family Court to transfer proceedings to the District Family Court if it considers that the District Family Court is the more appropriate court in the circumstances.


  1. A dedicated Family Law Rules Committee will be established to ensure that the rules of court in relation to family law proceedings are coherent and applied with consistency across all levels of the family courts.


  1. The General Scheme will enable access by researchers and court reporters to a wider range of court documents to facilitate research in relation to family law proceedings.