This volume, containing 19 cases, is the first to be published in the second phase of the project’s work. The first three-year phase concluded last November with a Final Report collating data on over 1,200 cases attended by the project and more than 300 reported on in its website.
Phase Two of project
This second phase combines continued reporting on child care cases with in-depth research into a number of very lengthy and complex cases, which have sometimes taken up dozens of days spread over several months. The project will continue to publish reports on child care cases, but the volumes will be published every six months rather than quarterly, as previously. It is intended that the additional research will identify the reasons why certain cases become very protracted and point to ways in which this could be reduced.
This research will be combined with further research by a Ph D student in NUI Galway on international best practice in child protection, jointly supervised by Dr Connie Healy of the Law School in NUIG and Dr Carol Coulter, director of the CCLRP. Maria Corbett, formerly of the Children’s Rights Alliance, was awarded a Hardiman Scholarship funded by the Galway University Foundation to conduct the research. An intern from the Suffolk School of Law in Boston, Anne Stevenson, is also working with the CCLRP over the summer as part of an exchange programme between Suffolk School of Law and NUIG School of Law.
The reports published below include one where the High Court approved a Protocol between the Child and Family Agency and the HSE which will see the provision of a psychiatrist for one day a week in three special care units, amounting to three-fifths of a full-time psychiatrist. This follows a number of hearings where the court was told of the lack of adequate therapeutic support for some of the children who have psychiatric problems when they come into secure units.
The reports also contain the ruling by a District Court judge that he did not have jurisdiction to refuse or allow the Child and Family Agency to withdraw an application for Care Orders for two children after 29 days of hearing. This had the effect of ending the application, leaving the children free to go home, and the guardian ad litem was automatically discharged.
In another case Care Orders were granted for the five youngest children of a family of 18 where the father was at the bottom 0.3 per cent of the population in terms of intellectual ability. A psychologist gave evidence of his inability, and that of his wife, to understand what was required of them in order to parent their children. In another case Care Orders were made for two teenage children whose mother suffered from a significant intellectual disability and also from mental illness.
Courts rule on role of CCLRP
In three cases the work and the scope of the Child Care Law Reporting Project itself was discussed by the court. In one case, where the CCLRP had sought documents relating to a case, the court ruled that the phrase “relevant court documents” in the enabling legislation did not cover social work reports. Following that ruling against the CCLRP, lawyers for the parents sought their costs against the CCLRP. The court awarded them their costs at District Court rates rather the rates normally charged to the Child and Family Agency. However, the judge said it was “extraordinary” and “deeply regrettable” that no state funds were available to the CCLRP to pursue such applications in the public interest.
In another case the Child and Family Agency sought to restrict media reporting on a case. It stressed that it was not concerned by the reporting of the CCLRP, but would be concerned if the media re-reported a CCLRP report, combining it with information already published.
The court gave a direction prohibiting the publication of any evidence in the case by any media organisation, which could be lifted on application to the court and on notice to all parties. The judge’s direction stated that this prohibition did not apply to the Child Care Law Reporting Project, but that any report from the CCLRP should be preceded by the statement: “No details of this case, including this report of the Child [Care] Law Reporting Project, can be republished by any media organisations without an application to Court 20, Dolphin House [Dublin], on notice to the Child and Family Agency.”
As the case has not yet concluded, no report on it is being published by the CCLRP in this volume.
In the case where the CFA withdrew its application for Care Orders for two children after 29 days’ hearings, the judge’s ruling on his jurisdiction to allow the CFA withdraw its application was preceded by the statement: “NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT SPECIFIC CONSENT OF THE COURT”.
The director of the Child Care Law Reporting Project sought the specific consent of the judge to publish the decision. The judge said he did not consider he could prohibit the publishing of a report under the legislation leading to the setting up of the CCLRP. He quoted the Act: “Nothing contained in this section shall operate to prohibit (a) the preparation of a report of proceedings under Part III, IV or VI by … a person falling within any other class of persons specified in regulations made under subsection (7) for the purposes of this subsection.” The CCLRP was such a “class of persons”, he said.
This meant, he said, that he could not prohibit the publication of any report of the proceedings by the project, including the contents of his decision. He could only prohibit the publication of the full decision as it was made by him. Nor could he have any role in the editing of the report, he said.