Child care hearings project launched


Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald has launched a new research project on child care hearings in the courts that aims to increase public awareness of proceedings and inform future policy.

The former legal editor of The Irish Times Carol Coulter is undertaking the independent study with the support of philanthropic funding from Atlantic Philanthropies and the One Foundation, with “infrastructural support” from Ms Fitzgerald’s Department.

Dr Coulter will attend a representative selection of cases in the District Courts in order to prepare and publish on a designated website reports of these proceedings and to collect data that will provide the basis for an analysis of how the system is working.

Among those sitting on the project’s expert advisory board will be former Supreme Court judge Catherine McGuinness and Geoffrey Shannon, the Government rapporteur on child protection.

“I am a firm believer in the administration of justice in public in order to promote public confidence in the justice system and permit debate on changes that may be necessary,” Ms Coulter said.

She said the privacy of family members would be protected.

“However, privacy is not the same as secrecy. I think it is very possible to report on family law in a manner that does not lead to the identification of the individuals involved and further victimise vulnerable children and adults.”

Child care cases are heard mainly in the District Courts and involved applications by the HSE for orders to protect children, including supervision orders, emergency and interim care orders and full care orders.

The cases are heard in-camera in order to protect the privacy of the families and there are rarely written judgements from the District Court.

Dr Coulter previously ran the courts service pilot project on family law reporting, which reported on family law proceedings over 12 months in 2006 and 2007.