Childcare court – a broken system

Recent coverage in the media has highlighted the issues that the courts face, in handling family law cases and concerns for privacy and capacity, due to the huge volume of cases some courts are experiencing.

Most of the issues mentioned here, are from The Child Care Law Reporting Project, led by Dr Carol Coulter, which exposes the difficulties of both privacy and capacity, posed for the judges attempting to deal with childcare cases.

Speaking about the findings, she said: “For example, in one court on one day, where there is just one sitting judge, there were 139 cases listed, consisting of crime, general civil law, family law and child care. In another District, the judge can have over 120 cases listed on family law days.”

With regard to the issue of privacy, under the in camera rule (meaning only those involved in the legal process can attend, and media and members of the public cannot), all family law proceedings including child care, must be confidential to the parties and their lawyers.

“Yet in many courts privacy can be limited, with all litigants and witnesses milling around in large open areas outside the courtrooms, often discussing their cases here with their lawyers.

This is exacerbated when family law and child care take place on the same day as crime and civil matters, as the volume of people is greater and family law litigants are cheek-by-jowl with prisoners in handcuffs awaiting criminal proceedings.

In some of the smaller courts there is no waiting area at all, and litigants, along with their lawyers, have to wait in cramped hall-ways, sit on stairs, stand outside the court or wait in nearby hotels.”


A National overview of child care proceedings in the District Court, by the Child Care Law Reporting Project



The report goes on to suggest a dedicated Family Court.

“Specialist family courts, with specially trained judges and court staff, in a number of venues around the country, would mean that what are often vulnerable families could have their cases dealt with sensitively in a suitable environment, where their privacy would be assured.”

Chair of the Law Society's Family and Child Law Committee Keith Walsh said there was agreement that the current family law system was broken and there was an urgent need for a specialist division to be established.

Representatives of the Children's Rights Alliance have also raised serious concerns about the structure of the courts system.

Saoirse Brady of the Alliance said: "Despite the fact that most proceedings involving children are subject to the in camera rule, a large number of court facilities still lack basic privacy.

"From consultations with lawyers, we know that legal advice is sometimes provided in hallways and stairwells, rather than child-friendly consultation rooms."

My own representative body, The Law Society of Ireland, has also called on the Irish Government to deliver on its commitments and prioritise the modernisation of the family law courts system.

Family Law is a dynamic and complex area of law in Ireland, with family breakdown, child custody and protection of minors being some of the most difficult and sensitive court proceedings that exist. I believe the family law system as a whole needs urgent review, including the provision of dedicated and experienced judges, with the appropriate administrative support structures to improve the capacity and efficiency of the system.

Time to shake up (and speed up) the divorce courts!

As our country prepares to go to the polls tomorrow, we will be asked whether we want to change the current legislation regarding the regulation of divorce.

What are the proposed changes?

We are being asked to vote on two proposals.

  • The first is regarding the length of time that people have lived apart before they can be granted a divorce.

Currently the spouses must be living apart for four out of the past five years to be eligible for divorce, we are being asked whether we want to remove this.

  • The second proposal is regarding the recognition of foreign divorces.

At the moment the Constitution prevents people who have got a divorce that isn't recognised under Irish law from getting married again during their former spouse's lifetime.

Some foreign divorces are recognised by the State under existing law and different rules apply depending on where and when it was obtained. The proposal is that divorces granted under the civil law of another country would be recognised.

There will be a single question on the ballot paper to change both.

A No vote would keep the Constitution as it is.

As it currently stands, the timeline it can take to complete a divorce in Ireland, in my view and experience in the family law courts, causes unnecessary emotional stress and trauma, prolonging legal battles and quite frankly, unneeded legal costs.

In addition, I would certainly support the simplification of the recognition of foreign divorces and would deem the entire system too complex and outdated. Voting Yes, would mean a person who got divorced abroad, will have their current living situation better recognised in Ireland.

The Constitution requires spouses, including people experiencing domestic violence, infidelity, and other various difficult reasons as to why they have suffered a marital breakdown, to remain married, but live apart for a minimum of four years before divorce proceedings can be commenced.

Voting YES would allow for this time limit to be decided in legislation. The current proposal is for a time limit of two years. If passed, it would remove harmful restrictions on divorce from the Constitution that cause huge upset, uncertainty and conflict for families and children.

For a couple to put themselves through the personal and financial turmoil of a divorce, you can only assume, it has been the hardest decision of their lives and the only option left available to them. It can be an extremely difficult process, and if passed, would allow more compassion to these families, whilst still giving them the time they need to make the decision that is best for them and their children.

This Referendum won’t remove the need for a court to be satisfied with the provisions made for spouses and children, and the courts would still need to be satisfied that there is no reasonable prospect for reconciliation before the divorce can be granted to the spouses.

Ireland has one of the lowest divorce rates in the world and I don’t see these changes to the legislation increasing those numbers. The constitution is not the right place to deal with complex personal relationships. I have only every represented couples in divorce matters, that have given every consideration to dissolving the marriage and for many difficult reasons in relation to their own situation, it is the right decision for them to make.


Personal Injury – separating the accident prone from the accident affected.

You would be forgiven in judging newspaper headlines relating to personal injury claims, and feeling that some awards given might seem overly generous to what you think sounds like a hyped up injury. The good news is, there has been a crackdown on this compensation culture and this clampdown has been a welcome change for businesses, organisations and private citizens, crippled with ever-increasing insurance premiums. With that being said, it’s important not to let scepticism or scrutiny, deny the justice of the genuine claimants who should be compensated and justly so.

Cases can vary hugely in there severity - loss of life, loss of limbs and loss of mobility are obviously among the most serious before the courts but the range of issues for some victims might not be as obvious or as easy to work out as you think it would be. For anyone who is unable to work due to an injury and those who have expensive and ongoing medical needs, it is essential to pursue a personal injury claim using a solicitor with experience in the field, so that their chances of success are maximised and fairly compensated for.

The first thing to do is find out if you have a case. The Injuries Board is the first route that you must follow when seeking compensation for your personal injuries.

It is a statutory body which provides independent assessment of personal injury compensation for victims of workplace, motor and public liability accidents. It does not cover psychological injury or assess personal injury claims that are the result of medical negligence. Being involved in an accident that wasn’t your fault and becoming ill or injured as a result can lead to an array of emotional and financial problems - instructing a solicitor to help with it, can get the best outcome within your circumstances.

Time is of the essence. In general, you have two years from the accident or incident you are claiming for to make a claim through the Injuries Board, or through the courts.

If an insurance company contacts you immediately after an accident, do not settle before seeking legal and medical advice. You may not be fully aware of your legal rights and entitlements, or even have an accurate picture of your injuries or suffering straight away.

Legal and medical advice should always be sought in order to receive appropriate compensation for your current and future needs as a result of the injuries you have experienced.

Medical care is a must. Seeking medical attention after becoming ill or being injured through no fault of your own, is not just important for your own personal welfare, this documentation and a doctor’s reports will be beneficial to help prove your claim. Your doctor will be required to fill out a medical report if you progress with your claim.   

Assessment. As previously stated, the clock is ticking and you have 24 months to lodge your claim with the Injuries Board. Once this is done, the clock is put on hold and the Injuries Board will begin to assess a claim. They will write to the other party who then have 90 days to consent or decline to an assessment. Failure to respond is deemed consent.

If after 90 days the other party declines to have the claim assessed by the Injuries Board, then an authorisation will issue. It is important to note that upon the issuing of this authorisation, time begins to run again. That is why it is important to take legal advice so that you do not run the risk of becoming statute barred.

Medical Assessment. If the Injuries Board do not assess your claim within nine months they have the authority to extend the time to fifteen months in which to assess the claim. They must notify you of this.

Claims are assessed using all the medical evidence, based on their own independent medical reports, and your own doctor’s medical report when making their award. The level of compensation awarded for particular injuries is based on what’s known as the book of quantum and any out of pocket expenses you have incurred (doctor’s fees, physiotherapy, loss of earnings etc.) should be included.

Time limit to accept or reject the award. Once the award is decided by the Board it is communicated to you and the other party. You have 28 days to accept or reject the award and if you do not reply to the Board you are deemed to reject the award and the same rules apply for the other party.

Accepting or rejecting the award. If you and the other party accept the award, the claim is settled and an order to pay is provided to the other party. This document, which is copied to you, has the same effect as a court judgment and proceedings may be issued on foot of it, in the event of non-payment. If it is rejected by you or the other party, you are entitled to go to court immediately.

Making personal injury claims is everyone’s right under the law, and if successful, the award will go a long way towards helping you get your life back on track. If you think you or a loved one has a case, protect your rights by talking to a solicitor today.





To plead, or not to plead: that is the question.

When we hear about a serious crime that happened locally or maybe in the news, we automatically want to know, what were the circumstances of the crime? Who did it? Will they be caught? What will their punishment be?

It’s also a normal reaction to jump to conclusions of guilt, when you hear parts of the story and start piecing it together…‘their partner has been arrested’, ‘a male in his 30’s has been charged’. You assume guilt, even though, we know we’re meant to do the opposite and find out all of the facts first. For all we know, the male in his 30’s who was charged, may very well have been in Eddie Rockets, chomping down on a cheese please and an Oreo milkshake, when the crime occurred.

I have been asked many times, “How can you defend that sort of lad?”  That is something that most criminal defence solicitors ask themselves, but if you can’t see beyond the charge and recognise that there might not be a case to answer, then it’s time to take up something else. It is a human and constitutional right to be permitted a defence and indeed for fair procedure to prevail no matter how serious the allegation. The basic rule of law demands that a person or company be afforded due process.

Defence solicitors are not Judge’s or jurors. We are there to peruse the evidence and offer the client our advices to permit them to make an informed decision. Whether a client is innocent or guilty is a matter for the Judge or Jury and is not something that a criminal defence lawyer should concern themselves with.

On the hugely popular TV series ‘Making a murderer’, the subject Steven Avery - a Wisconsin man who served 18 years in prison for rape and attempted murder, before being exonerated by new DNA evidence, is a prime example of justice gone wrong. Could this happen in Ireland? Or, indeed, have similar events occurred?

Wrongly convicted: Miscarriages of justice in Ireland

FEICHIN HANNON Granted a certificate of miscarriage of justice after his conviction for sexual assault in 1999 was quashed when the complainant admitted she had invented the allegations.

NORA WALL A nun accused of rape following false allegations by two women who later admitted lying, Wall served four days of a life sentence in 1999 before her conviction was quashed. The trial took place against the background of widespread revelations about clerical child abuse, which may have influenced the jury. In 2005, Wall was declared the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

Evidence from all countries is that mistaken identification is the most common reason for wrongful convictions, as honest witnesses often make mistakes. Think about that. Imagine being accused of a crime because you looked like someone who committed it, and you were in the wrong place, at the wrong time? Steven Avery knows all about it.

When it comes to justice, we all have our jobs to do in the legal game. When working with An Garda Síochána, I think an appreciation of each other’s roles is crucial. It is important to understand each other’s responsibilities and duties. From the lawyer’s perspective taking into account a suspect’s right to a fair trial, and for Gardai, fairly representing the interests of victims/witnesses of crime and society in general.

It was the late, great Martin Luther King Jr who said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Although, by its very nature, the work that criminal lawyers do is complicated and hard to understand, it is vital in order to maintain justice and ensure fair outcomes for anyone up against legal charges. Criminal defence lawyers are simply doing their duty to defend a citizen whose rights are protected and cannot be easily taken away.






Mortgage arrears – when money really matters.

Most of us look forward to Christmas and all the festive fun it can bring, but we also know it can put even more financial pressure on some, particularly those already struggling to pay their bills. The biggest bill for most, being their mortgage. In fact, the Central Bank revealed that there were 87,796 accounts in mortgage arrears at the end of June this year - add the cost of Christmas into the mix for these families, and things suddenly don’t seem quite so festive.

For anyone worried about mortgage payments, or your bank is taking you to court over your mortgage arrears, there is free financial and legal advice available for anyone who needs it. Abhaile and MABS are a few of the fantastic services that can help mortgage holders in arrears to find the best solutions, and to keep them in their own homes, wherever possible. For some cases, court proceedings can even mark the beginning of a positive resolution process.

What to do if you receive a court summons?

Lenders can be aggressive in their communications when a borrower has been missing mortgage repayments or not paying the full repayment amount each month. It can start to feel very overwhelming and very stressful, very fast. Taking action and steps to resolve the issue, will help you feel back in control.

If you do get summonsed to court, the first thing to do is to get independent financial advice from the Abhaile service via your local MABS office or the MABS helpline (0761 07 2000). If you haven’t already discussed options with your lender, make contact with them to explain your situation – believe it or not, the banks are open to making alternative arrangements regarding repayments. The Central Bank has a Code of Conduct for Mortgage Arrears (CCMA) and lenders must work with you to help get you back on track with your mortgage.

Can they take my home?

Any borrower in fear of losing their home should know the legislative protections available to them. For example, the court can postpone repossession proceedings for up to two months, to allow the borrower to explore the possibility of putting in place a Personal Insolvency Arrangement under the Land and Conveyancing Reform Law, 2013.

A Personal Insolvency Arrangement or PIA, is a court-approved agreement between you and your creditor. It allows for the restructuring and write-off of debt, with the aim of keeping you in your home where possible. Borrowers can access the services of a Personal Insolvency Practitioner for free via Abhaile.

Cooperation is key. If you do not cooperate, you are at greater risk of losing your home, as you will lose the protection of the CCMA.

Do I need to attend court in person?

If your name is on a court list, it is always my advice to show up, if possible. It shows respect for the court and it’s also an opportunity for your side of the story to be heard. As I said at the start, it could also be an opportunity for a resolution. Proof of repayments or efforts made to pay towards them, will go a long way in fighting your corner in court too.

Do you need a Solicitor?

It is up to you – some of the more complicated cases definitely benefit from legal advice. Under the Abhaile scheme, you can have a free face-to-face meeting with a solicitor (a Duty Solicitor), who will explain your legal situation and advise you how best to resolve it. If you do not have a solicitor for court, there are Abhaile Duty Solicitors and Court Mentors offering free support at every Circuit Court sitting too.

The court has issued a repossession order. What happens now?

In April to June this year alone, 343 homes were repossessed over mortgage arrears. In these cases, a resolution had not been reached after repeat hearings, and the court ruled in the lender’s favour, giving permission to repossess these houses. If this happens, the court may grant a “stay”: a grace period allowing you to stay in your home for three to six months before the lender is permitted to take possession of it. After a repossession order is granted, you can still appeal the ruling to a higher court, or make contact with your bank to see if alternative agreements can be reached.

It’s never too late to try and come to a resolution. For anyone in fear of fear of losing their family home, the services mentioned here, can help and offer support. Especially, if needed, in the run up to Christmas. Abhaile is jointly coordinated and funded by the Department of Justice and Equality and the Department of Social Protection. MABS, the Insolvency Service of Ireland, the Legal Aid Board and the Citizens Information Board are working together to administer the Abhaile scheme. These initiatives have never been more important, and combined with national reforms to make improvements to Ireland’s housing crisis, can make a real difference to the lives of our neighbours, who are just trying to pay their ‘Abhaile’ bills.