Family Law Matters

The appointment of Dr Carol Coulter as Family Law Reporter was welcomed here last October. Today’s Irish Times (both on the front page and in a special report inside) reports that she has now produced her first report, under the title used in the title to this post. Thanks, Carol, for shining such important light on crucial, if heretofore opaque, aspects of our justice system.

This comes on the day when there is significant coverage of the government’s plans for a referendum on children’s rights (eg RTE (Mon (yesterday) | Tue (today) | Irish Times front page, inside | Irish Independent | Irish Examiner). As it happens, the School of Law, Trinity College Dublin, will tomorrow hold a conference on Children’s Rights and the Constitution.

Update (22 February 2007): My colleague Eoin Carlan has an excellent piece on the Government proposals in yesterday’s Irish Times; and there is coverage by Carl O’Brien of yesterday’s conference in today’s Irish Times.

Update (27 February 2007): Dr Carol Coulter’s report Family Law Matters has now been published on the Courts Service website. It provoked an acerbic attack from the pen of John Waters in yesterday’s Irish Times, which in turn drew a measured response in that paper’s letters column today from Gerry Curran, Media Relations Adviser to the Courts Service. Referring to “the ingenuous media response to Carol Coulter’s first report on the family law system”, Waters argued that the “family law system is incompetent, corrupt and brutal, but it is surely within the capacities of even incompetent, corrupt brutes to raise their game a little” when they were being observed. He concluded:

Had it not been for this column in the past decade, almost nothing of this reality would have been conveyed to readers of The Irish Times. To suggest now that Big Sister has debunked what I and a few others have been pointing out for years is ludicrous and self-serving.

This report serves only to camouflage the true nature of family law. I would describe it and its coverage as a joke were we not dealing with the most serious and systematic abuse of human rights, as well as the most abject failure of journalistic inquiry, on the part of the media in general, in the history of the State.

Of course, it is a classic postmodern move to say that a description serves to obscure rather than to elucidate a contested reality, but I have to say that this is not how I read the report at all. Rather, I saw it as part of the important process of shedding light where there had been obscurity, for good constitutional reasons of ensuring that justice is not only done but also seen to be done. It is part of this process, a pilot, a start, and certainly not yet the end point. We need more work like this, not less.

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