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Barnardos today echoes the Law Society's calls for urgent review of the family law system, calling for a dedicated family court service. Over 20 years have passed since the Law Reform Commission reported a 'system in crisis' and recommended reform. Since then little has changed for children and families accessing the courts, significant reform is needed.
June Tinsley, Head of Advocacy, Barnardos said: "20 years on from the Law Reform Commission's recommendations we are still waiting for an appropriate family court service. For children and families this means being put through additional and unnecessary stress while they're navigating what is already a traumatic time in their lives.
"The negotiation of custody or access arrangements is an uncertain and often traumatic time in a child's life, delays in legal hearings and decisions only extend this period of uncertainty. Lack of specifically trained judges and appropriate support services often means the child's voice is not effectively heard in matters which directly and severely impact their future. Similarly the lack of specialised knowledge by courts staff can lead to fewer referrals to much needed support services which can have a severe impact on a child's development.
"Anyone who has had the unfortunate experience of attending a family court sitting will know how inappropriate the current court setting is. Without rooms for parents and families to wait or consult with their legal advisors, sensitive conversations are had in corridors and on stairways. Victims of domestic violence are likely to come face-to-face with the perpetrator of their abuse as they're waiting for their case to be heard. Meanwhile, as there is no playroom or child-appropriate space, children often sit next to their parents or play on the floor as their future is discussed in hushed tones.
"There has been much political promise of reform, with a Bill reportedly in progress. But we have yet to see any real political action on this issue. Reform is long overdue; children and families deserve to be treated with dignity and respect - both of which are currently lacking due to the absence of a dedicated family court system."