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  • Northside East

Reform of family courts sought

Friday, 22nd March, 2019 7:59am
Reform of family  courts sought

Dolphin House. There has been a call for urgent reform of the family courts. PHOTO: DARREN KINSELLA

Reform of family  courts sought

Dolphin House. There has been a call for urgent reform of the family courts. PHOTO: DARREN KINSELLA

A NORTHSIDE local election candidate has called for urgent reform of the family courts.

Terence Flanagan, a Fine Gael candidate in the Donaghmede Local Electoral Area (LEA) for the elections in May, said there has been a lot of discussion in recent years about overhauling the family courts.

“However, little change has taken place to date,” he said. “There are a few minor adjustments which could be made straight away to improve the system. 

“Family courts deal with highly sensitive and personal family matters and very often domestic violence so it is vitally important that both parties involved are afforded some safety and privacy before entering the court room. 

“Unfortunately, this is not the case. Waiting room areas can often be extremely hostile places where both parties often sit for a full day before having their case heard.”

“I have witnessed parties in Dolphin House making threats, being verbally and physically abusive and the gardaí often called upon to break up fights. 

“The waiting area is where both parties consult with their solicitor, desperately trying to find a quiet space away from the other party so as not to be overheard. This situation makes solicitor/client briefings quite awkward.” 

A spokesman for the Courts Service said it is very aware that facilities in Dolphin House are not suitable for the type of business conducted there. 

“Despite two major overhauls in the past 20 years, it remains a difficult place within which to conduct family law business,” he told Northside People.  

“Difficulties can include security, overcrowding, lack of privacy and no segregation of parties in difficult domestic disputes. 

“The poor facilities exacerbate what is already, for most people involved in a family law matter, a very difficult and stressful situation. 

“The unsuitability of the facilities at Dolphin House and indeed at other locations within central Dublin that deal with child and family law matters, is one of the primary reasons for the Courts’ Service initiative to develop a large, new, dedicated family law and children’s court complex on the vacant ‘Hammond Lane’ site located adjacent to the Four Courts in Dublin 7. 

“The proposed new court complex would be a purpose built facility specifically designed to cater for the particular needs of those involved in family or child care cases.” 

The spokesman said the Courts Service is currently in detailed discussions with the Department of Justice and Equality regarding the financing of this ambitious and very important project. 

“Due to the scale of the project a delivery timeframe of approximately four to five years could be anticipated following approval to proceed,” he said. 

 Pending delivery of the proposed Hammond Lane court complex, the Courts Service said it is keen, where possible, to improve the experience of those who use the existing facilities at Dolphin House.  With this in mind it said: 

• Works to improve its facilities have been ongoing since September of last year.

•Consultations have taken place with a number of organisations who work in the area of family law including Women’s Aid, Amen, One Family and Treoir.

A number of actions have been taken to date including:

• Initiatives aimed at increasing awareness of the in-house Family Mediation Service of the Legal Aid Board, as an alternative to court when dealing with child related matters. 

• Repainting of the waiting areas, the installation of drinking water fountains in public areas, and the provision of softer furnishings in the victim support room. 

• The creation of child distraction spaces, child friendly decals have been placed on selected walls, and sensory boards will shortly be available in these spaces.

The spokesperson added: “In examining the possibility of providing separate waiting areas for the different parties involved in cases at Dolphin House, the layout of the ground floor is being examined at present with a view to reconfiguring it so as to alleviate, as much as practicably possible, the problem of opposing parties being in very close proximity for long periods of time.”  

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