Reform of legal system to be widely welcomed
The equality and law reform proposals in the Programme for Government include more women in the management of public sector bodies, measures to make the legal system more efficient, and reform of the libel laws.
The extensive plans for reform of the legal system are likely to be widely welcomed, although the Law Society and the Bar Council will consider closely their impact on their members. The Courts Service and the Equality Authority have welcomed the proposals, while stressing the need to examine them in detail.
A spokesman for the Courts Service said that it had just been made aware yesterday of the programme, and it welcomed any moves that would ease access to justice. It would consider the proposals in detail in due course.
Measures in the programme include the reorganisation of the High Court under separate divisions and the easing of the in camera rule in family law cases to allow the reporting of general trends while protecting individuals' privacy. Legal opinion obtained recently by the Board of the Courts Service suggested that the law needed to be changed to facilitate this.
The chief executive of the Equality Authority, Mr Niall Crowley, welcomed the commitment to ensure that 40 per cent of the membership of State boards came from each gender, and to increase the representation of women at management level in public bodies.
Reform of the libel laws is promised, though it is unlikely to come quickly, as the programme promised to "move to implement reform of libel laws" in the context of a statutory Press Council and improved privacy laws.
Mr Frank Cullen, co-ordinating director of the National Newspapers of Ireland, said that "our libel laws are the most archaic in Europe, so any move to reform would be welcome. However, a Press which does not regulate itself, but which is regulated by government and the courts, cannot be a free Press. That is not a course of action which any government should take lightly."
Ms Mary Maher, Cathaoirleach of the Irish Executive Council of the NUJ, said that the union had been seeking reform of the libel laws for a long time, and would eagerly study detailed proposals.
The Programme for Government also promised reform of the law relating to charities to ensure greater accountability and protect against abuse of charitable status and fraud. There is very little statutory regulation of charities at the moment.