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Justice | Extent of children protection under Section 47

To ask the Minister for Justice if legislative change is required in order to ensure that the paramount rights of children are fully vindicated and protected with particular reference to section 47 reports which have in some cases heretofore remained unchallenged; and if she will make a statement on the matter.

I would like to assure the Deputy that protecting the rights, and best interests of, the child is a priority in relation to all legislation under the remit of my Department dealing with family law proceedings.

This legislation includes:

  • Guardianship of Infants Act 1964
  • Family Law Act 1995
  • Family Court Bill

Furthermore, Article 42A.4 of the Constitution requires that provision be made by law that in the resolution of all proceedings concerning the guardianship or custody of, or access to, any child, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.

Section 47 of the Family Law Act 1995 provides that the Circuit Court or High Court may order a report in writing on any question affecting the welfare of a party to family law proceedings or any other person to whom they relate.

Assessors and experts in family law proceedings are formally appointed by the court, and answer to the presiding judge in a specific case.

As the Deputy is aware, the Courts are, subject only to the Constitution and the law, independent in the exercise of their judicial functions and the conduct of any family law case is a matter for the presiding judge.

I am determined to overhaul the operation of the family justice system, to ensure that we have a more efficient and user-friendly family court system that puts the family at the centre of its work. This is a key commitment in my Justice Plan 2022. The Programme for Government contains a commitment to enact a Family Court Bill to create a new dedicated family court within the existing courts structure and provide for court procedures that support a faster and less adversarial resolution of disputes.

The Bill will provide a set of guiding principles to make the best interests of the child a primary consideration in all family law proceedings.   The principles will give clear recognition to the need to ensure that the views of the child are heard and given due weight, and that children are appropriately informed about family law proceedings that affect them.

The drafting of the Family Court Bill is at an advanced stage with a view to publication of the Bill as soon as possible in this Dáil session.

In addition I have also established a Family Justice Oversight Group to develop the first national strategy for the reform of the family justice system and to support the legislative changes proposed in the planned Family Court Bill.

The focus of the group is to drive and co-ordinate the modernisation of the family justice system to make it more user-friendly, streamlined, supportive and, where possible, less adversarial. During the Group’s work to develop the strategy, it heard from children and young people who have engaged with the family justice system. They told the Group how they think a modernised family justice system should look.

Common themes were raised, similar to those raised during the wider consultation, such as the need for: a greater focus on children; better availability of and access to support services and appropriate training for those working in the family justice system, in particular for those who work with children. These areas are being considered by the Group as work to finalise the strategy continues.

The Family Court Bill will provide that specialist knowledge, and ongoing professional training in the area of family law will be required to be appointed as a family court judge.

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