The legal implications of getting engaged in Ireland

It used to be the case in Ireland that getting engaged to somebody was akin to entering into a legally binding contract. Nowadays, though you may be seen as having a moral obligation to that person, you no longer have a legal obligation. However, as will be discussed, this does not mean that getting engaged is without legal consequence.

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The rights of the non-marital family under Irish law

While we all may have heard of a “common law marriage”, whereby a couple live together as husband and wife without actually being legally married, the concept is not recognised under Irish law. Although the family is recognised and protected in Article 41.1 as “the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society”, the State still holds the institution of marriage above all non-marital unions, as outlined in my article on the rights of the marital family. Nonetheless, non-marital families are afforded some protections and rights under Irish law.

Historically, one of the relationships with the fewest amount of rights was that of unmarried/natural father and his child. While a natural father’s rights have increased dramatically in recent years, they still do not come close to those of a father who is married to the mother of the child. Indeed, a natural father has no constitutional rights to his child whatsoever, so it is to statute that we must turn. Continue reading

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Courts Bill 2013 – changes to the ‘in camera’ rule, and increases to District & Circuit Court awards

The government has today published the Courts Bill 2013, which proposes to change the law not just in relation to family law cases, but to the District and Circuit Courts in general.

Turning first to the impact on family law, it is currently the case in Ireland that family law matters are held in camera, that is, in private. The only people privy to the proceedings are the parties involved, any witnesses, legal counsel, and the judge. Under this new Bill, it is proposed that the in camera rule be changed to allow for “bona fide representatives from the Press” to attend and report on certain cases. However, the court will still have the power to prevent the media from being present and/or from reporting on certain details such as sensitive personal information, and nothing can be published or broadcast which might lead members of the public to identify the parties and/or children involved in the proceedings.

The reasoning behind the proposed change is to add an element of transparency to the family law process which, Minister for Justice Alan Shatter says, will “provide valuable information on the operation of the law in this area”.

Turning to the proposed changes to the District and Circuit Courts, the Bill aims to increase the maximum monetary award in the District Court from €6,384 to €15,000, and to increase the maximum Circuit Court award from €38,092 to €75,000 (though, in personal injuries cases, that award will be capped at €60,000).

The practical effect of this, it is envisaged, will be a reduction in legal costs. For example, as it currently stands, if a party wishes to claim for a sum of €40,000, he will have to begin his proceedings in the High Court, thus attracting High Court legal costs. If the maximum award was increased, however, he could then bring his claim in the Circuit, thus only subjecting himself to costs at that lower level.

The full text of the Bill can be found here.

What do you think of the proposed amendments to the in camera rule? And to the proposed increase of maximum monetary awards in the District and Circuit Courts?

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The Magdalene Laundries Report

Today, the long-awaited ‘Report of the Inter-Departmental Committee to establish the facts of State involvement with the Magdalene Laundries’ was published. And it makes for grim reading.

 

Some figures from the report

  • Number of women who spent time in the laundries since 1922: 10,012 (this figure excludes the two laundries run by the Sisters of Mercy)
  • Average age at time of entry: 23.8
  • Age of youngest known entrant: 9
  • Age of oldest known entrant: 89
  • Deaths occurring in the laundries from 1922: 879 (this figure excludes the two laundries run by the Sisters of Mercy)
  • Age of youngest at time of death: 15
  • Age of oldest at time of death: 95

 

You can find the link to read the entire report on the justice.ie website here.

 

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I have a HMV voucher – what can I do?

Most of us are now aware that HMV has gone into administration. What many of us do not understand is what exactly this means, particularly in light of growing frustration over the inability to spend gift vouchers.

 

So what does administration mean? In basic terms, it means that a company is no longer financially viable and, as such, the right of creditors to be paid is suspended until the administration process is complete.

 

A ‘receiver’ is appointed — that is, an individual or agency will take over the management of the company in order to assess the company’s financial situation and its future viability. Essentially, it will examine the cost structure of the company and endeavour to come up with a ‘rescue plan’.

 

If the administration process is successful, the courts will ask the creditors of the company to approve the plan. If so approved, the company will continue to operate based on this new plan. In practice, this usually means that a portion of the company’s debts will be written off and creditors will only receive a percentage, if anything, of the monies owed to them. If the process is unsuccessful, the company will likely go into liquidation. In other words, the company will cease to exist.

 

In the Republic, Deloitte Ireland has been appointed as receiver for HMV. The administration process is underway and the right of creditors to be paid has been suspended. The owner of a gift voucher, being owed a debt by the company, is considered a creditor. (This also applies to anyone who wishes to return an item to the company, though they may still have recourse with the manufacturer of the product if the item is faulty.)

 

In summary, if you hold a HMV gift voucher, your right to spend that voucher has been suspended until the administration process is complete. In reality, though by no means definite, there is little likelihood of your voucher ever being worth its full value.

 

So what can you do? At this moment in time, you could contact the receiver to ensure that you are on the list of the company’s creditors. In that way, you will have a say in any proposals or plans that are put forward by Deloitte at the end of the process. How that process will end is, at present, anyone’s guess; however, the situation is a serious one, and is unlikely to have a happy conclusion for the retail giant. Or for its creditors.

 

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Structure, Function & Jurisdiction of the Supreme Court of Ireland

Having covered the District, Circuit, and High Courts, I will now round out the series by outlining the main features of the Supreme Court, which was established under section 1 of the Courts (Establishment and Constitution) Act, 1961. The Supreme Court, which sits in the Four Courts in Dublin, is the court of final appeal in Ireland.

Structure

The Supreme Court is comprised of a President, known as the Chief Justice (currently Her Honour Ms. Justice Susan Denham, appointed in July 2012, and the first ever female Chief Justice), and 7 ordinary judges. As befits his office, the President of the High Court is also an ex officio member of the Supreme Court. In certain circumstances, it is permissible for extra judges to sit, for example, if one of the Supreme Court judges is president of the Law Reform Commission, where a former Chief Justice serves as a Supreme Court judge, or where there are insufficient numbers for the hearing of a matter, whether by reason of illness or otherwise. The judges are ranked as follows:-

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Structure, Function & Jurisdiction of the High Court of Ireland

I have already covered the District Court and Circuit Court in previous posts, so the next logical step is to examine the High Court. Legally established by section 2 of the Courts (Establishment and Constitution) Act, 1961, it is empowered with full original jurisdiction by Article 34.3.1 of Bunreacht na hEireann. This means that it has full power “to determine all matters and questions whether of law or fact, civil or criminal”.

Structure

The High Court consists of a President (currently the Honourable Mr. Justice Nicholas Kearns, appointed in October 2009) and 36 ordinary judges. The Chief Justice and the President of the Circuit Court are ex officio members.

Civil cases are usually heard by one judge sitting alone, although cases of defamation, assault and battery, false imprisonment, and malicious prosecution all require a jury. Though rare, cases of particular importance (for example, a constitutional issue which is in the public interest) are heard by three judges. Criminal matters require a judge and jury. Continue reading

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