A judge in a regional district court made an order for disclosure, releasing documents held by the Child and Family Agency (CFA) in relation to allegations of chronic neglect, to Án Garda Síochána for the purpose of a criminal investigation.
The CFA refused to release the documents voluntarily as they were of the opinion that it would breach the in camera rule. The court heard the children were in care under a voluntary care agreement. The application, which was made under Section 47 of the Child Care Act 2001, had been before the judge on several occasions and he requested written submissions in order to assist him in making his decision. Submissions were prepared by senior counsel on behalf of both the CFA and An Garda Síochána.
The judge said that he had to consider the welfare of the children and at the same time, balance the interests of all the parties and the broader interest in justice being served. The judge quoted from the opinion of senior counsel which stated:
“The lifting of the [in camera] rule would mean the anonymity of the children would be in danger. The only use the Gardaí can make of the application is to assist them in their investigation. Any criminal trial in respect of the case would be subject to further orders protecting the anonymity of the children.”
The judge then dealt with the duty of both the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the impact the disclosure of the documents to An Garda Síochána may have on the rights of the parents to a fair trial. The judge again referred to the opinion of senior counsel which stated:
“The Garda have a duty to seek out evidence which will assist the prosecution, but also all information which may assist the defence. It is important that the DPP should have all the information available to her to decide whether or not to prosecute the parents. The fact that the DPP will have all of the information is of benefit to the parents.”
The judge held that the in camera rule was a very important legal restraint which was used to protect the parties. He said that the obligation of the rule was subject to certain flexibilities and found that it was in the interest of justice that the parties would have all of the information before them.
The judge limited the lifting of the in camera rule to the investigation into the allegation of neglect as against the parents. He said that, “rights must be protected, but also balanced.”