FLAC reaction to proposed changes in family law, bankruptcy and civil legal aid

30 August 2010

Legal rights organisation FLAC has commented on the draft legislation published today by the Department of Justice & Law Reform, the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010. It noted that the new bill proposes changes across a wide range of issues including family law, bankruptcy law and the provision of civil legal aid.

FLAC is welcoming the proposed changes to the law concerning family maintenance payments. This will bring the law in this area into line with the general regulation of debt collection. According to FLAC, the bill proposes a new process whereby defaulting maintenance debtors will be brought before a judge to explain their failure to pay. FLAC said that callers to their telephone information line and their centres have noted that the gap in the legislation which currently exists is causing hardship.

Commenting on the changes, Ms Noeline Blackwell, Director of FLAC, said that "when this new legislation is enacted, there will be a clear distinction made between those who cannot pay maintenance and those who actively choose not to. Imprisonment will be a sanction for a Judge to impose on those persons who are simply refusing to keep up maintenance payments. On the other hand, those who are experiencing economic difficulties will get a chance to explain this to a court and perhaps have existing orders varied."

While the bill contains some change to bankruptcy law, FLAC said that the small changes proposed were inadequate. According to Ms. Blackwell, "merely setting an outer limit of 20 years on the period during which a person might be bankrupt was entirely insufficient to deal with the real situations of over-indebted people in Ireland today."

FLAC also noted a positive change in the extension of provision for legal advice to any person who is an alleged victim of a human trafficking offence. However, the organisation noted that this did not appear to extend to representing those victims in court proceedings, nor will it protect victims of the sex trade who did not come within the narrow definition of trafficking.




Editors' notes:
1. FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres) is an independent human rights organisation which works to promote equal access to justice for all. It runs a lo-call telephone information line giving general legal information to the public and it supports a network of evening FLAC clinics around Ireland where volunteer solicitors give first stop legal advice to people who need it and cannot afford legal representation.
2. The Minister for Justice & Law Reform published the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2010 on 30 August 2010
3. The Bill provides for amendments to provisions across a range of civil law and regulatory law matters. A Miscellaneous Provisions Bill is normally published once every 2 years.