HSE bid to obtain teenage patient’s passport rejected

High Court judge criticises ‘unwanted communications’ from witness

The High Court heard a HSE social work team had “real concerns” the girl might be taken abroad because of information given to them by the girl’s grandfather and father.  Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

The High Court heard a HSE social work team had “real concerns” the girl might be taken abroad because of information given to them by the girl’s grandfather and father. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times

Thu, Oct 24, 2013, 15:25

A request from the Health Service Executive that the family of a 16-year-old in an adolescent psychiatric unit be required to hand over their daughter’s passport was rejected at the High Court today.

The court heard the HSE social work team had “real concerns” the girl might be taken abroad because of information given to them by the girl’s grandfather and father.

The girl went into voluntary care in January this year following a psychotic episode. After her mother raised concerns about her treatment with anti-psychotic drugs, the HSE obtained a District Court order to detain the girl.

At a subsequent sitting, in the High Court in July this year, the girl’s mother described her daughter as walking “like a 70-year-old woman” because of the drugs she had been given. But medical evidence was that she needed to continue on the treatment.

Mr Justice George Birmingham said given the “highly fraught relationship” between the HSE and the family, he was not going to make a decision on the issue of the passport “on the hoof”. He told the HSE they could bring a formal application if they needed to and he would consider the matter then.

He also said he had received “unsolicited and unwanted communications” from Dr Bob Johnson, a former consultant psychiatrist and author who had given expert evidence for the girl’s mother. He said communicating directly with the judge was “not an acceptable way to behave” and he would consider a contempt of court action or a complaint to the Medical Council if he was to repeat the behaviour.

“Dr Johnson’s actions are seriously undermining his credibility as an independent expert in this case,” Mr Justice Birmingham said.

Counsel for the family said he knew nothing of Dr Johnson’s “absolutely outrageous communication” and took on board the judge’s concerns.

Counsel for the HSE asked that the “substantive issue raised at the High Court” – a judicial review of the original order to detain the girl - “be determined as soon as possible”. This would mean the case would be returned to the District Court.

The HSE did not believe “a great deal is going to be achieved” by repeatedly going back to the High Court asking Mr Justice Birmingham to “separate the parties”, with the medical view on one side and the family view on the other.

Counsel for the girl’s guardian ad litem, a court appointed guardian, said his client would not like to see an end to Mr Justice Birmingham’s involvement until after her next child protection conference.

The judge said he would hear the matter on December 5th. He also said all the existing orders, including those allowing the use of anti-psychotic drugs, should be continued.