Tipp FM Legal Slot – 28th January 2014
Gillian O’Mahony on Family Law Changes[soundcloud id=’165871721′]
Recently, there have been changes to the in camera rule, which mean that the media will be allowed to report on Family Law proceedings. Tell us about these new developments.
- New Year’s Resolution Advice: Be Aware the Media Can Now Report on Your Family Law Case
Up until now, Family Law proceedings have always been held in camera, which meant that they were dealt with in private and the public, media or law reporters did not have access.
Since the 13th January, media access is now permitted into court hearings on family law issues and child care.
This includes divorce, separation, domestic violence, maintenance, custody, or cases where the State is taking children into care. The media can now report on what is happening in court.
What safeguards are in place to protect the family’s privacy?
- New Year’s Resolution Advice: Don’t Worry – Your Privacy Remains Intact
There are very important safeguards in place. Journalists cannot report on anything that would identify the family, witnesses or the child(ren) in question.
Will this lead to greater transparency in Family Law cases as everyone involved will be aware of how cases are dealt with?
- New Year’s Resolution Advice: Embrace the Change – It will Benefit Your Situation
The changes to the in camera rule allow greater transparency in the way that Family Law cases are dealt with.
Up until now, there has been no transparency because there has been no report from Family Law cases and there has been a veil of secrecy around Family Law proceedings.
This new change to the in camera rule means that decisions of the court can be open to scrutiny; there is a safeguard; there will hopefully be more consistent judicial decisions nationally and legal professionals such as solicitors, the judiciary and the public will know how the courts are dealing with Family Law issues.
Who will benefit from the changes to the in camera rule?
Everyone involved in Family Law cases will benefit from the new change. It will be to solicitors’ benefit because we will know how judges are dealing with cases; it will be to clients’ benefit because there will be more consistency across the country in the way cases are being dealt with.
Consistency and transparency will hopefully be the outcome from these new changes as a body of case history can develop.
Is there any precedent in Family Law cases already and will there now be more?
There is already precedent in Family Law cases insofar as there are High Court decisions. In any of those cases the family are not identified; people are referred to by their initials or initials that the court has given them.
With the new changes, cases in local courts can now be reported on and solicitors and the public will know what way particular judges are dealing with cases.
The change to the in camera rule was brought in in the UK in 2009 and there was a flurry of publicity around those changes, many arguing that the privacy of family law hearings would be lost, but those concerns never materialised.
Are there any situations where journalists would be restricted from reporting on Family Law proceedings?
- New Year’s Resolution Advice: Know That Your Family Law Hearing May Still be Dealt with In Private
The court will retain the power to exclude representatives of the press or to restrict reporting in certain circumstances.
The court can do so on an application by one of the legal teams involved to the effect that due to particular circumstances the case should not be reported on or the court can decide on that itself. In reaching a decision on whether the case should be reported on or not, the court will have to balance the promotion of public confidence in Family Law cases with the best interests of the child, and what is in everybody’s best interest.
The Minister for Justice, Alan Shatter, intends on holding a Referendum this year to establish a new Family Court system. What changes are proposed?
At present, our courts system does not have a dedicated family law division. The current family courts system is “fragmented” with the three courts — District, Circuit, and High Court — each dealing with separate family issues, ranging from maintenance applications and custody issues to child abductions.
Currently, a Judge can, without any further training or prior experience, deal with a criminal case, a road traffic accident case or a family law case. This can be a serious problem in Family Law cases, particularly as children are involved, which require a very high degree of understanding, empathy, sensitivity and delicacy.
Under the new proposals Judges with a specialisation in family law will preside over all proceedings.
This is a very important and welcome development. It is important that the judiciary have special skills, so that when individuals go to family court, they know there’s going to be a degree of consistency.
Minister Shatter hopes that the new system “should be more user friendly and should make things less costly”.
It is hoped that the new regime will be a less intimidating and a more welcoming environment for families in personal difficulties.