The publication of the Courts Bill 2013 was announced by Minister Alan Shatter on the 19th March 2013.
The implications of this Bill, if enacted, will be twofold:
1. Firstly, it is proposed that the in-camera rule be amended to allow transparency in family law proceedings. This long standing rule has refused access to members of the public, in particular the media, to Court whilst family law or child related cases are being dealt with, and has restricted publication of details of these matters. The Law Society of Ireland has welcomed the Bill’s proposal as they have long felt a need to modernise the area of family law.
The Bill proposes to ensure that a balance shall exist between protecting the privacy of those involved and allowing public access to information on how the family courts operate in Ireland. The privacy aspects of the rule will be retained, however bona fide members of the press will be allowed access to proceedings. The judiciary will retain a discretionary right in this regard in specific cases. A strict prohibition will apply on reporting of material likely to identify the parties to the proceedings or any children connected with the family law court proceedings. The implication of this is that the identities of those involved in family law cases will not be revealed in the media but reporting in general on family law cases in Ireland will increase.
2. The Bill also proposes amendments to the jurisdictional limits for both the District and Circuit courts in civil matters. These monetary limits have not changed since 1991. At present the District Court monetary limit is € 6,348.69 but the Bill proposes increasing this to €15,000. The current Circuit Court monetary limit is €38,092.14 and an increase to €75,000 is suggested. However, the Bill indicates that in personal injury cases the revised monetary limit of the Circuit Court will be €60,000.
The proposed change to the monetary limits of the lower courts will impact on a potential plaintiff’s choice of venue when dealing with litigation. For example, a plaintiff must ensure that if they enter their claim at a High Court level that they will not be awarded a Circuit Court level award. This could result in the plaintiff being responsible for the extra costs involved in bringing the claim to the High Court, when a lower court would have been more appropriate.
In addition, increases to the monetary limits will inevitably raise the amount of litigation coming through the District and Circuit Courts At present there are already substantial delays being experienced by litigants and the proposed increases may exacerbate this.