Family courts and divorce referendum

 

Sir, – The report of the Child Care Law Reporting project is quoted in Monday’s Irish Times as calling for the establishment of specialist family courts to hear child care and other stressful family law cases (News, March 11th).

The establishment of such courts was a commitment contained in the 2011 Fine Gael/Labour programme for government.

It was my intention to bring the legislation required to create such courts before the Dáil in 2015. At the time of my resignation in May 2014 as minister for justice I was considering whether a referendum was required to facilitate their establishment without constitutional difficulty. To date, no legislation to create family courts has been published.

A referendum is now promised to reduce the waiting time for a divorce from four to two years subsequent to the irretrievable breakdown of a marriage. As minister for justice , I stated the need for such a referendum but believed it crucial that a specialist independent family court structure be first put in place. It is needed to ensure the best interests of children and the welfare of dependent spouses are properly protected.

Before holding a divorce referendum, the Government should first establish family courts. If the current Attorney General believes a referendum is necessary to avoid future difficulty, as a minimum, a referendum on family courts should coincide with the promised divorce referendum. The Government should also commit to setting up family courts within a specific timeframe. – Yours, etc,

ALAN SHATTER

(Former minister for

justice, equality & defence),

Dublin 16.