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  1. Publication of Courts Bill 2013

 

Publication of Courts Bill 2013

 

The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr Alan Shatter T.D.,  announced the publication of the Courts Bill 2013 on the 19th March 2013.

The Bill has two purposes, the first of which is to modify the in camera rule which prevents members of the public, including the news media, from being present in court when family law and child care proceedings are being heard.  This proposal is in furtherance of the Programme for Government commitment to reform and modernise aspects of family law.  The second purpose of the Bill is to increase the monetary jurisdiction limits of the Circuit and District Courts in civil proceedings.

The Bill aims to provide for a careful balancing of the need for privacy for persons involved in family law and child care proceedings with the need to ensure access to important information on the operation of family and child care law in our courts.  The Bill proposes to retain the privacy provisions in respect of such court proceedings while allowing the attendance of bona fide representatives of the Press.  The courts will, however, retain the power to exclude representatives of the Press or restrict or prohibit the publication of evidence given in the proceedings in certain circumstances.  In addition, a strict prohibition will apply on reporting of material likely to identify the parties to the proceedings or any children to whom the proceedings relate. 

As regards the jurisdiction limits of the courts, the Bill proposes to change the monetary limits on the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court and District Court in civil proceedings to €75,000 and €15,000 respectively.  However, in personal injury actions, the revised monetary jurisdiction limit of the Circuit Court will be €60,000. 

Making the announcement, the Minister said, "I am very pleased to bring forward legislation to amend the long standing in camera rule in family law and child care proceedings, and to increase the monetary jurisdiction limits of the Circuit and District Courts.  These reforms are long overdue. Media access and reporting of cases will add transparency to the conduct of family law and child care proceedings and will provide valuable information on the operation of the law in this area.

The Bill is designed to achieve an appropriate balance between greater transparency in family court proceedings and protecting the anonymity and privacy of families and individuals, with a particular focus on the best interests of the child.  The measure is also intended to ensure that sensitive information relevant to a family’s or individual’s commercial interests is not disclosed in the reporting of family proceedings.  As the Bill embodies a fundamental change in our approach to family proceedings, I regard detailed consideration of these provisions as a crucial part of the legislative process to ensure we achieve the right balance between the public interest and the right to privacy. 

The proposed changes to the jurisdiction limits of the Circuit and District Courts should ultimately lead to a reduction in the burden of legal costs for individuals and companies  involved in litigation.  It is crucial that parties involved in legal conflict do not incur more legal costs than are necessary in circumstances in which they have to resort to litigation.  It is also important that our court jurisdictions keep substantially in line with inflation and that our higher courts are not unnecessarily overburdened with appeals that could and should be properly dealt with at a lower level.  The extension in the jurisdiction of the District Court will result in a portion of litigation presently undertaken in the Circuit Court in the future being dealt with at District Court level.  The changes will also result in a proportion of litigation presently being conducted in the High Court in the future being dealt with at Circuit Court level.  Over time, this should effect a reduction in the number of appeals that have to be dealt with by our Supreme Court.  A further amelioration of the burden presently imposed on the Supreme Court will result from the creation of a Court of Appeal should the proposed referendum it is hoped to hold next Autumn to provide for such court receive public support.

As a further measure to deal with concerns relating to possible inflation of awards and a consequent effect on insurance costs, I am proposing to restrict the jurisdiction of the Circuit Court to €60,000 in respect of personal injury actions."

It should be noted that the current monetary jurisdiction limits for civil matters in the Circuit Court stands at €38,092 and for the District Court at €6,384.  The limits have remained unchanged since the coming into force of the Courts Act 1991.  In concluding Minister Shatter stated "It is almost 22 years since change was affected to the monetary jurisdiction of our courts.  This is far too long.  I believe it is in the public interest that  jurisdictional issues be revisited more frequently and I am considering what steps might be taken in the context of this Bill to ensure this occurs in the future."

The Courts Bill 2013 is available on the Houses of the Oireachtas website: www.oireachtas.ie

19 March 2013