Monday 23 April 2018

Couple tell High Court their children were taken into care on 'hearsay'


Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

THE parents of children taken into State care have claimed that their children were removed from them on the basis of "hearsay" without any safeguards.

This morning the High Court began hearing an "urgent" action by the couple who are challenging the legality of orders under which all of their children have been taken into care.

The children were taken into care last year following what High Court judge Mr Justice Gerard Hogan has described as "very serious allegations" against the parents.

All of the children are subject to full care orders.

But their parents, who deny the allegations, argue that the orders are invalid and unconstitutional on grounds including "manifest" constitutional of parental autonomy in relation to their children.

This morning barrister Berenice McKeever, for the parents, told the High Court that the case was not equivalent to wardship proceedings and said that hearsay was not acceptable in a dispute between the rights of parties.

"All I can find is hearsay, upon hearsay upon hearsay with no safeguards," said Ms McKeever.

The case is now sitting In Camera - where the media and public are excluded - to air sensitive reports relating to the allegations. 

Last week Judge Hogan ruled the media may report the case subject to strict reporting restrictions aimed at preventing the parties being identified.

There can be no reporting of the number of children involved; the location of the parents, their nationality or any details of the allegations against them except that the allegations are "very serious".

These restrictions are "solely in the interests of the welfare of the children" Judge Hogan said this morning.

The case arises after the District Court last September granted an application by the HSE for emergency care orders concerning the children.

Interim care orders were later made and now all the children are subject to full care orders, dating from January last, which extend into next month.

After the parents went to the High Court, Judge Hogan directed an inquiry under Article 40 of the Constitution into the legality of the orders which the HSE argued last week were valid.

The Office of the Attorney General, which is not a party to the case, is, however, present to assist.

Several departmental officials are also present for the hearing.

Last week the High Court heard that the "real issue", given the very serious allegations against the parents, was whether Article 42.5 came into play.

Article 42.5 provides, in exceptional cases, where parents fail in their duty towards their children, the State as guardian of the common good shall endeavour to supply the place of the parents with due regard for the rights of the child.

Judge Hogan also referred last week to the new Article 42.a enacted as a result of the children's rights referendum, but he said that that was "in a bit of a limbo" as a result of a legal challenge aimed at overturning the result of the referendum.

The hearing continues.

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