Interim care order granted in first ever virtual hearing

An interim care order for an unaccompanied child victim of trafficking was granted by Dublin District Court in the first ever virtual hearing of a District Court case.

At the outset the court registrar read out the guidelines for virtual hearings, including that one participant would speak at a time and that the other participants would mute their microphones unless speaking. Observers, including the CCLRP, kept both their microphones mute and their cameras off.

The judge said that the court, having considered all aspects of the case, concluded that it could be conducted virtually with no unfairness to the parties. She warned participants that, as the proceedings were covered by the in camera rule, there could be no recording or screen shots taken. All necessary documents had been filed and read by the court, she said.

The application was for an interim care order and care order for a minor, she said. The parents could not be served as their whereabouts were unknown, therefore the hearing was taking place ex parte.

The barrister for the Child and Family Agency (CFA) said that the child, a young teenager, had arrived into the country earlier in the year from a middle eastern country. Her social worker would give evidence.

The social worker told the court that the separated children team in the CFA had received a referral of the child from the international protection office, which told them she needed to be taken into care immediately. She said she had escaped from the family she was working for in the middle eastern country. She and her family were immigrants to that country, and she worked for the family four days a week, returning to her family at weekends. One weekend she returned home to find her family had disappeared, which, according to the social worker, was apparently not unusual in that country.

She returned to work with the family, but they now worked her seven days a week with no proper accommodation and treated her harshly. One day she was told to pack, that the family was going on holiday and taking her with them. She travelled with them to a country she now knew to be Ireland, where she continued to work seven days a week until she managed to escape.

The social worker said that the CFA had attempted to contact the girl’s family through the Red Cross in her country and through social media, but so far had not been successful. The CFA was concerned the girl had been trafficked for labour and would be brought back to the middle eastern country for continued exploitation. She was currently living in a centre for such children, and would remain there for some months while learning English, familiarising herself with Irish culture, and while arrangements were made for her to go to school.

The judge enquired about the girl’s health needs, and the social worker said that she had been admitted to Temple St hospital with an illness, but this was being appropriately managed with diet and medication.

The judge also asked if the CFA knew anything about her journey to Ireland and whether she had passed through any other EU country. The social worker said that cameras in the airport were being checked. The trafficking unit had talked to the girl through an interpreter about the duration of the flights and the fact that there had been two.

Referring to the issue of the appointment of a guardian ad litem, the social worker said that the girl found it difficult to understand why she was where she was, and difficult to trust those helping her.

The judge ruled that an interim care order should be made, and the application for a full care order adjourned. She said she was satisfied from this was a vulnerable young person, that she was the age she said she was, that she had arrived in Ireland as described, and that the agency had taken the appropriate steps to protect her. She appointed a guardian ad litem from the list before the court and noted that the CFA was continuing to seek the help of international agencies to contact the girl’s family in her country of origin. Access would be arranged if they succeeded in contacting the family. She directed that the girl be medically examined and her health needs be attended to.