The Child Care Law Reporting Project attends the ‘Call Over’ of District Court child care cases in the Dublin Metropolitan District (DMD) each week. Below we provide a snapshot of cases listed for hearing in that District over a ten-week period between October and December 2021.
Prior to 2020, a Call Over was held each morning that the DMD was sitting. Since the introduction of remote hearings following the Covid health restrictions, the Call Over has taken place online and take place once a week on a Monday morning. The DMD cases are heard by three judges who sit in the Bridewell building, Chancery Place. The Call Over lasts approximately two hours.
The Call Over takes place on the Courts Service secure platform and is presided over by one of DMD judges. It involved inputs from Courts Service registrar staff and legal practitioners representing the Child and Family Agency (CFA) and the HSE where appropriate, as well as legal representatives for the respondent parents and GALS where appointed.
The weekly Call Over briefly discusses each matter listed for hearing that day and in the coming week. The reason for the various orders sought is not opened up due to the number of cases on the list.
A total of 739 matters were originally listed for hearing within the ten-week period. This is an average of 74 matters or ‘cases’ listed each week to be heard by the three sitting judges. The busiest list had 88 matters listed and the quietest 47 matters.
Of these 739 matters listed over 11 per cent (83 matters) were adjourned at the Call Over to a future date, some of these adjourned matters re-entered the list within the ten-week period under examination. In addition, a further two per cent (15 matters) were listed in error, struck off or the date vacated. Hence, 641 cases were scheduled to be heard during this ten-week period. It should be noted that changes to the daily lists often occur on the hearing day, including cases being adjourned or a new application being added to the list, such as an emergency care order.
The information below provides a snapshot of the volume and nature of the work of the DMD during this ten-week period.
During the 10 weeks we observed mention on the list of:
- applications for supervision, interim and care orders under the Child Care Act 1991; and applications to extend interim care orders and to review care orders
- we observed 14 applications for care orders in relation to unaccompanied minors (separated children)
- applications under section 47 of the 1991 Act raising a concern about the welfare of a child in care
- an application under section 43A of the 1991 Act (increased rights for foster carers)
- after care reviews
- re-entries due to placement breakdowns
- re-entries to facilitate the reappointment of a GAL
- private family law matters of access and guardianship concerning a child who is before the courts for a child care matter
- case management hearings, including matters in ‘for mention’, updates on onward placements and funding applications and cases where it was planned the child was going to meet with the judge.
In addition to matters under the Child Care Act 1991, there were also 18 listings in relation to applications under section 25 of the Mental Health Act 2001 (relating to 10 cases).
The information provided at the Call Over included references to:
- Nature of the matter
- Identification of the relevant legal representatives
- Whether the respondent parents are opposed or consenting to the application
- Whether the respondent parents were available to engage in the proceedings, for example during this period in 37 cases the parents were either deceased or their whereabouts were unknown
- Whether the respondent parents were legally represented. There was a significant proportion of cases listed where the parents had not secured legal representation
- Whether a GAL was appointed and their legal representation if appointed
- Identification of measures needed to ensure the hearing could proceed, this included the engagement of an interpreter, parental advocate and arranging a video link for an incarcerated parent
As part of the Call Over, the legal practitioners are requested to estimate the length of time the matter is likely to take. Many matters require an hour or less of court time, others can take half a day, and a minority are highly contested and can run over several days.