Family courts’ in-camera rule ‘paradise for abusers’

System requires urgent reform to address delays and protect victims, says group

The webinar heard that some abusers are being granted access to their children and they are using this as a way to keep controlling their former partner. Photograph: iStock

The family courts system in Ireland needs to be reformed urgently to ensure women and children are protected from domestic abusers, an advocacy group has said.

Mary-Louise Lynch, founder of Survivors Informing Services and Institutions (Sisi), said that the in-camera rule (private sittings) of family courts is a “paradise for abusers”.

Speaking at a National Women’s Council of Ireland webinar, she claimed that some abusers are being granted access to their children and they are using this as a way to keep controlling their former partner.

“Why in Ireland is fatherhood considered a free pass to abuse women and children . . . every day abusive men are granted unfettered access to children, many of whom don’t want to go with them, as they have been abused or [witnessed their mother being abused].”


Ms Lynch said the in-camera rule should be lifted for a number of cases so they can be reviewed by experts.

“There is little justice for women and children in the Irish family law system. Women reporting abuse have a right to immediate protection under the [Istanbul] Convention.”

However, since the Domestic Violence Act was implemented in 2019, just seven emergency barring orders were sought, and only two were granted, according to Ms Lynch.

This, combined with “token” refuge spaces and the rise in domestic violence reports during Covid-19 lockdowns, was extremely concerning, she added.

Ursula Regan, a solicitor who specialises in family law, said the delay between a woman applying for a barring order and seeking summons and the case being heard was “unacceptable”.

“I have a client who attended [a District Court] on the 24th of November to seek a protection order and to issue a summons for either a safety or barring order . . . she was granted a protection order, with the return date for the hearing of her summonses on the 18th of May 2022.”

This woman will be put under serious pressure from her abuser, and maybe extended family, to not proceed with the application, added Ms Regan. “Justice delayed is justice denied. There is an absolute immediacy for the courts to deal with applications where domestic violence is an issue. A delay of six months is utterly unacceptable.”

Without the proper support system in place, laws and conventions are a “paper, box-ticking exercise”, Ms Regan said.

Female politicians also attended the webinar and they spoke about their experience of online abuse and casual sexism in Leinster House.

Senator Eileen Flynn said that on her third day of being in the Seanad, an Independent Senator approached her and told her that she was a “token” nomination because she was a woman and a Traveller. “After all of [my] hard work . . . it’s easy for men to dismiss us, it’s like sometimes we can’t win in political life or public life, someone else ‘had to get us there’.”

She called for greater protection against online abuse for women, and for minority groups to have more access to domestic violence services and political life.

She also said it was okay for men to take a step back and give women and people from a minority background a chance to lead.