International Women’s Day 8th March saw a major conference entitled “Conflict Resolution: Peace, Practice and Perspectives – celebrating Women as ARD Leaders”. It was a collaboration between CI Arb, which is the authority for the regulation, training, promotion of arbitration, mediation and dispute resolution in Ireland, Arbitral Women, a network of women from diverse backgrounds and legal cultures active in international dispute resolution, The Irish Women Lawyers Association and the Law Society. It was Sponsored by the Edward M Kennedy Institute for conflict intervention at NUI Maynooth. There were many delegates from many countries and Muriel Walls made a presentation entitled “Empowering couples to resolve their own family disputes” and the paper is attached.
The High Court gave a landmark judgement in a surrogacy case on 5th March 2013.
The case involved a husband, his wife and her sister. The wife was the genetic mother and the husband was the genetic father of twins. The sister carried the children in her womb and gave birth to the twins. The Chief Registrar of Births refused to register the husband and wife as the legal parents and said the sister was the mother of the children in law.
The husband and the wife applied to the High Court for a declaration that they were the parents of the children. The sister supported their application. The Court heard a number of expert witnesses in the case and ultimately concluded that as the wife was the genetic mother of the children, and the court was satisfied that she was, she should be registered as the mother. The Court noted the “total absence” of any positive legislation on surrogacy and the solicitor for the couple called on the Government to bring in the much needed legislation.
The facts of this case are different to many other surrogacy situations. Firstly all the parties were in Ireland, in many other surrogacy cases couples go abroad. Secondly, the husband and wife were the biological mother and father, in many surrogacy cases, there may be egg and/or sperm donation from a third party. Thirdly, the sister supported their application, in other cases complications can arise if the parties to the “surrogacy agreement” don’t do as they agree and such agreements are unenforceable.
On Saturday 2nd March a significant Seminar took place at which Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, the Chief Justice Susan Denham and Attorney General Maire Whelan and other speakers outlined the need for a reform of the Courts system, in particular the Superior Courts and the Family Court. At the time of the 1937 Constitution, there were seven high Court judges and the Supreme Court dealt with appeals from these judges. Now there are 36 High Court judges and the Supreme Court simply cannot cope with all the appeals cases coming to it. At the moment there is a four year delay. This has implications not only for the litigants themselves and the issues in their cases bit for the country and commercial life and business. The President of the Law Society said it was like a six lane highway converging on a boreen! At the Seminar the Minister announced a plan to establish a specialised Family Court structure, with specialist judges and support services. The Minister is considering what is the best structure and is consulting with others in that regard.
At Walls & Toomey we believe everyone needs prompt and sound legal advice but not everyone needs to go to Court. The Courts should encourage parties to try to resolve matters between themselves with the help of their lawyers at an early stage. The Courts can then be available to deal with those cases where there may be exploitation or abuse or inequality between the parties.