Belfast Telegraph

Campaigners highlight Ireland’s ‘archaic’ family court conditions

A number of organisations are launching the Courting Disaster campaign in Dublin.

The launch of the Courting Disaster campaign at Hammond Lane in Smithfield Conor McCabe Photography)
The launch of the Courting Disaster campaign at Hammond Lane in Smithfield Conor McCabe Photography)

By Aoife Moore, PA

Victims of domestic and sexual abuse are being forced to queue next to their abusers in Ireland’s “archaic” family court service, a campaign group has said.

A multi-agency campaign was launched on Tuesday, by a number of organisations calling for the Government to allocate funding to develop a new family law court in Dublin’s Smithfield.

Barnardos, Children’s Rights Alliance, Community Law and Mediation, Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Family Lawyers Association, FLAC, National Women’s Council Ireland, One Family, the Bar of Ireland, the Law Society and Women’s Aid, make up the Courting Disaster coalition, which says victims are being re-traumatised by the current state of the system.

In the current system, people who are going through custody battles, seeking safety orders and other family law issues are forced to queue, sometimes for a full day, to speak into a hatch in full view of everyone present.

Solicitors say they are being forced to speak to their clients and young children about confidential matters in public corridors as there is no appropriate consultation rooms due to the age of the buildings and lack of space.

Tanya Ward from Children’s Rights Alliance said that women are forced to queue next to their partners while they are seeking a safety order.

“The first time they go up to the hatch, they have to tell their story in order to get the barring order, and then they are forced to sit next or queue next to the partner, this is someone who could’ve nearly killed her,” she said.

“We have to have a court facility where women feel safe, and child friendly, at the moment they’re absolutely ill-equipped to support families in Ireland.

“We have had dozens and dozens of cases, you could be discussing something really important, really traumatic in your life, and there’s nowhere to try and resolve these issues in a private space.

“We’ve had a circumstance where one woman lost her child, and cried and cried in front of everyone and there was nowhere to take her, during this really traumatic thing that happened to her.”

In October the joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and Equality recommended that the necessary funding be allocated as a matter of urgency, which the group says has been agreed in principle but agreement has yet to be reached on structure and funding.

The 0.45 hectare Smithfield site was expected to open in 2020, however the development has suffered a number of delays since the Courts Service announced its plans to build a new court complex a number of years ago.

We are calling on Government to make the necessary funding available without any further delay, so that the deficiencies in the current family law system can begin to be addressed Courting Disaster

Noeline Blackwell from Dublin’s Rape Crisis Centre said the conditions mean the court system makes it “extremely difficult” for victims to navigate as the basic facilities are not there.

“About 20% of the people we saw in Dublin’s Rape Crisis Centre in 2018 were intimate partners, who were involved in family law issues as well as rape and sexual abuse, and for them at the most difficult time in their lives they’re going into court spaces that are not adequate, running into the person who carried out the abuse into the halls, where there is nowhere safe for them,” she said.

“For as long as that is going on children and vulnerable people are not getting the kind of justice that they need.

“It’s a most difficult time when they go into this area and they should expect at a minimum safety, good access and, particularly for children, feel relatively at home for a place they don’t want to be in the first place.”

The group says that the current state of the buildings needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency in order to make them more child-friendly and facilitate vulnerable women and victims.

The group has called for funding to develop a dedicated family law and children’s court at Dublin’s Hammond Lane to ensure facilities are fit for purpose to meet current and future needs, with provision of onsite Legal Aid Board and mediation services and a child-friendly environment.

It says the building must have large waiting areas and a sufficient number of rooms to cater for private consultations, to facilitate safe spaces for women and families who are experiencing domestic violence.

A statement from the group reads: “We are calling on Government to make the necessary funding available without any further delay, so that the deficiencies in the current family law system can begin to be addressed.”

PA

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