Child-care cases are listed alongside criminal matters in crowded courts
A nationwide report paints a troubling picture of the environment in which child-care proceedings are dealt with in district courts.
Overcrowded courts, the inclusion of child-care cases on lists alongside criminal matters and inadequate waiting areas were just some of the issues highlighted in the report published today by the Child Care Law Reporting Project (CCLRP).
The report was compiled after the project attended full-day sittings in 35 courts around the country between October 2018 and January 2019.
It recommends legislating for specialist family courts, with dedicated child-care days separate from the private family law list.
Child-care matters can include the placing of children in care and are dealt with in private.
The report said one of the most striking issues to emerge was the volume of cases dealt with by certain courts, and the difficulties this posed both for judges and for the parties involved.
For example, on one day at Athy District Court in Co Kildare, where there is just one sitting judge, there were 139 cases listed, consisting of crime, general civil law, family law and child care. The CCLRP said this clearly posed considerable difficulties in dealing appropriately with cases that may be complex, such as child-care matters.
It said long lists meant there was limited time to hear cases and long days in court, with families waiting many hours for cases to be called.
It also found there was a lack of privacy, with sensitive family matters being heard alongside criminal cases, a lack of consultation rooms and facilities such as water and vending machines, as well as accessibility issues in some courthouses for buggies.
CCLRP director Dr Carol Coulter said it was clear some of the courts were "severely overworked, which cannot but have an effect on how child-care proceedings are dealt with".
She said most districts have only one judge to deal with sometimes enormous lists.
Nine of the 35 courts visited saw child-care cases included in general lists, alongside family, criminal and other civil law cases. Some 17 of the courts heard child care as part of a larger family law list, typically with up to 60 or 70 cases.
The project found that in some courts, child-care cases are heard first, while in others they are interspersed throughout a longer list, meaning families must be present in court for the whole day.