Family court judges should be allowed see the outcomes of their ruling on children
Geoffrey Shannon, Special Rapporteur on Child Protection calls for specialised court facilities for children
Professor Geoffrey Shannon said any reform of family courts should lead to an integrated system offering access to several services under one roof. File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill
A pilot programme allowing family court judges to see the outcomes of their rulings on children should be established as part of an overall restructuring of the system, a report has said.
Professor Geoffrey Shannon, Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, also suggested judges should set “firm timetables” based on the needs of the children involved.
His recommendations, contained in his annual report to Cabinet on Tuesday, draw from child-centred reforms and approaches from several other countries.
Professor Shannon said any reform should lead to an integrated system offering access to several services under one roof.
These would include medical, legal, educational and social services, while families could avail of supports such as anger management, parenting plans and therapy.
“The interdisciplinary system involves an acceptance that simply making a court order is not sufficient, that further work needs to be undertaken by specialists with a range of non-legal skills to ensure that the needs of clients are met,” his report noted.
It also highlights the need for sufficient investment, which would allow for specialised facilities away from formal court settings and designed with the “children’s presence in mind”.
There is also a need to consider foreign approaches to family law proceedings, such as in the US where lawyers take instructions from their child clients as they would from adults. Guidelines for meetings between judges and children must also be developed, Prof Shannon said.
“The message from other jurisdictions is unequivocal and that is that children and family services in the court are best managed by a dedicated and integrated Family Court structure that is properly resourced to meet the particular needs of people at a vulnerable time in their lives.”