By Nicola Corless
THE president of the district court sat in Clare for just the second time in the State’s history last week. Judge Rosemary Horgan presided over Family Law sittings on Thursday and Friday on the invitation of local district court Judge Patrick Durcan.
Clare’s family law lists are notoriously long, with as many as 60 cases listed to be heard in one day. Last year, in addition to the two scheduled family law sittings each month, 17 special sittings had to be held here, presided over by visiting judges, in an attempt to deal with the backlog of cases.
Marie Keane of Callinan Keane Solicitors explained the significance of the visit.
“This is just the second time ever a President of the District Court has come to sit in Clare. The previous one was Judge Smithwick so this is quite an honour for her to come here,” she said.
“Judge Horgan”, according to Ms Keane, “was concerned with the length of the lists. Judge Durcan invited her to Clare to see for herself what it was like on the ground. Judge Horgan was eager to see how this could be addressed.”
Two childcare cases were fixed for Judge Horgan’s sitting on Thursday and Friday. The Childcare Act 1991 includes applications for interim care orders, care orders, supervision orders and court directions regarding children in care.
“Childcare cases must get the time they need. Often there are experts from the HSE, medical reports and so on but there is no worse thing you can do to a person than take their children away from them and every day that you don’t get your case heard, you are at the loss of your child,” Ms Keane stated.
“Equally in domestic violence cases, the longer the wait the more you lose ground. The momentum and urgency is lost through no fault of the persons involved. These types of cases must be progressed quickly,” she added.
On Friday morning Judge Horgan met with Judge Durcan and family law practitioners in Clare and discussed the delays in hearing cases and measures that could be introduced to expedite cases.
“Judge Horgan brought in a practice direction in draft form. She is based in Dublin and this policy works there so there is no reason it shouldn’t work here. Essentially it involves better communication between the two sides before a case is brought to court, reports would be exchanged in advance, statements of facts would be agreed in advance as much as possible and expert witnesses would liaise with each other to establish what is agreed so all of these things are known in advance which makes things more productive and quicker. This will ensure that people get access to justice, and get it much faster. It is very important for people, especially in childcare cases, to know that progress is being made,” Ms Keane outlined.
The new practice direction will mean a prioritisation of childcare and domestic violence cases followed by guardianship and access and maintenance.
Judge Horgan was appointed to the role of President of the District Court in June 2012, just a year after becoming a district court judge. A presidential term lasts for seven years and it is likely the Dublin-based judge will return to Clare later this year to preside over the conclusion of one of the cases, which began last week.