Operation of the ‘in camera’ rule in Irish family law system to be examined

Posted on: 08 July 2024

A new research project being undertaken by social policy experts in Trinity's School of Social Work and Social Policy and legal experts in University College Cork will examine the in-camera rule in Irish courts. 

The in camera privacy rule in Irish family law has been a source of much debate. Whilst there appears to be a general understanding that in the family law context the in-camera rule operates to protect the identity and privacy of the parties and any children to whom the proceedings relate, the actual nature and scope of the rules application is unclear, according to the researchers undertaking the study.

The project, entitled Research examining the operation of the in-camera rule in the context of family law, will uncover how the in camera rule works in practice in Ireland and how it is experienced by those who encounter it and work within the courts.

The independent study is being conducted by Dr Aisling Parkes, School of Law (PI) and Dr Kenneth Burns, School of Applied Social Studies, from University College Cork and Dr Simone McCaughren, School of Social Work and Social Policy, Trinity College Dublin. This research has been commissioned by the Department of Justice and is an action in the Family Justice Strategy 2022-2025.

This unique study is one of the first to examine the practical operation of the in-camera rule in Irish Family Law proceedings. It seeks to provide a 360-degree view of how various stakeholders including parents, social and legal professionals, judges, researchers, journalists and media, experience the perceived limitations and strengths of the in camera rule.

The first phase of the study will involve a nationwide survey of parents who have been involved with the Irish family law system. This fully anonymous online survey aims to capture the unique perspectives of those family members with direct experiences of the family law courts in Ireland. The survey will be live until mid-August. Further phases will involve engagement with other professional stakeholders.

Dr Aisling Parkes, Senior Lecturer in Law, who is leading the research project, said: “This research is timely given the current focus on reform within the Irish family justice system. For decades now, there has been much confusion concerning the operation of the in-camera rule amongst not just families but also amongst the various professions who engage with the family law system on a daily basis. The perceived limits imposed by this rule has had significant implications for research in the area of family law which has limited potential recommendations for reform.”

Dr Simone McCaughren, Assistant Professor in the School of Social Work and Social Policy, Trinity added: “This study will capture for the first time the views and experiences of those who have engaged with the Irish family law system. The survey findings will be included in this timely and ground-breaking research to support current plans to reform our family legal system. It has the potential to have a significant impact on future family law reform by identifying the challenges and opportunities surrounding the rule’s operation.”

The online survey for family members can be accessed here: https://forms.office.com/e/ANkL9pemxK


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Fiona Tyrrell | Media Relations | tyrrellf@tcd.ie | +353 1 896 3551