We publish here our fourth and final volume of case reports for 2014. These include both lengthy and complex cases and accounts of single days in District Courts hearing child care applications, when over a dozen cases, including reviews of existing orders, are often heard in one afternoon. They bring to 101 the number of such reports published in 2014.
The cases again show a wide variation in the reasons why the Child and Family Agency seeks orders protecting children, either by taking them into State care or with Supervision Orders. These range from drug or alcohol addiction on the part of parents, leading to neglect, to serious behavioural or health problems on the part of the children.
The cases also demonstrate the role of the courts in laying down guidelines for the conduct of child care cases. In the case where the court refused care orders for children who had been in interim care for five and three years respectively, the judge delivered an exceptionally long 40-page judgment. This deals with such issues as the background to the case, the constitutional position of the family and the child, the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights on the rights of the family, the interpretation of the child care legislation, the thresholds required for the making of different levels of care order, the admissibility of evidence and the role of guardians ad litem in child care cases.
In this case, which continued for 19 days over six months, the judge was highly critical of the delays in the case, and asked the children’s guardian ad litem to write to the Ombudsman for Children asking that an investigation be carried out into those delays. Refusing the CFA application for full Care Orders until the children were 18, he said the failure of the CFA to produce witnesses who could give evidence to support allegations of abuse against the parents was crucial in his refusal to grant the order.
While the judge in this case was critical of the HSE (later the CFA) for not seeking a High Court order returning the children to their country of origin, in a more recent case an Interim Care Order for a child born three days after his mother arrived in Ireland was granted pending the hearing of a High Court application for the child’s return only a few weeks after the birth.
We hope that the publication of these reports, along with the growing number of written judgments from District Court judges in child care cases, most of which are published on the Courts Service website (www.courts.ie) will assist in the development of greater clarity and consistency in the bringing of child care applications around the country.