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  1. Courts Bill 2013

 

Courts Bill 2013

 

The Courts Bill 2013, which was published on 19th March 2013, is currently before the Seanad. 
 
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. 

At the announcement of the publication of the Bill, 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 second stage speech, which outlines the thinking behind the Bill and an overview of its contents,  given by the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Mr Alan Shatter T.D., in the Seanad on 27 March is available to download here
http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/Speeches_courts_policy_and_legal_services  

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