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?