Eight child care cases were listed alongside 78 private family law cases in a rural town in recent months. In another court 45 family law cases included 12 child care cases, and in a third 43 family law cases included five child care applications. This is not unusual in District Courts outside Dublin, where child care cases are dealt with on days allocated to family law matters.
This means that the applications by the Child and Family Agency (CFA) for Emergency, Interim and Care Orders are heard on the same day that the court is also hearing applications for maintenance, access and guardianship in family law disputes as well as applications for Safety, Protection and Barring Orders under the Domestic Violence Act. Sometimes the court will also deal with other civil as well as criminal matters on the same day.
These sittings usually take place monthly or fortnightly in the busier towns. The public areas of the court buildings are frequently crowded with solicitors, barristers, witnesses and litigants waiting for their cases to be called. While the actual court proceedings are conducted in private (in camera) there is no privacy in the court lobbies.
As the family law day began with 86 cases on the list parties in the family law cases were urged by the judge at the commencement of the sitting to try to agree as much of their claims as possible or, ideally, to settle their claims. In order to speed up the proceedings, a member of the Courts Service staff called out the initials of the participants in the lobby and lined up the parties in a row outside the entrance door to the courtroom so that as little time as possible was wasted in getting the participants in and out of the courtroom.
In another rural town, there were 45 cases on the list including 12 child care cases. The proceedings commenced shortly after 10 am and the final child care case was completed at approximately 8 pm. During the day the court also dealt with criminal and civil matters including a debt collection case and an application concerning a drinks licence for a pub.
A judge in another town had his family law list interrupted by the gardai who brought in two defendants who had been arrested on bench warrants and he imposed a prison sentence on another defendant who had been previously convicted of serious road traffic offences. His family law list of 43 cases included five child care cases. Four of these were applications for the extension of Interim Care Orders. Only one of these applications was opposed. The judge extended the orders in each of the cases.
The fifth case was the review of a Care Order made two years ago in respect of a young girl whose mother had significant mental health issues. A further review was ordered in two and a half years time when the child would be of an age when the mother’s mental health problems might manifest themselves in the child.
The child’s Guardian ad Litem told the court the child did not have mental health problems at the moment but that she would be of an age in two years time when these mental health problems could manifest themselves and she would be at a much greater risk of developing them. Avoidance of drugs and alcohol would, he said, be very important.