Child care proceedings in non-specialist courts: the experience in Ireland

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O'Mahony, Conor
Burns, Kenneth
Parkes, Aisling
Shore, Caroline
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Oxford University Press
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It is widely accepted that court proceedings concerning child protection are a particularly sensitive type of court proceedings that warrant a different approach to other types of proceedings. Consequently, the use of specialized family or children’s judges or courts is commonplace across Europe and in common law jurisdictions. By contrast, in Ireland, proceedings under the Child Care Act 1991 are heard in the general courts system by judges who mostly do not specialize in child or family law. In principle, the Act itself and the associated case law accept that the vulnerability of the parties and the sensitivity of the issues involved are such that they need to be singled out for a different approach to other court proceedings. However, it is questionable whether this aspiration has been realized in a system where child care proceedings are mostly heard in a general District Court, using the same judges and the same physical facilities used for proceedings such as minor crime and traffic offences. This article draws on the first major qualitative analysis of professional perspectives on child care proceedings in the Irish District Court. It examines evidence from judges, lawyers, social workers, and guardians ad litem and asks whether non-specialist courts are an appropriate venue for proceedings on an issue as complex and sensitive as child protection, or whether the establishment of specialist family courts with dedicated staff and facilities provides a better solution.
Child protection , Child Care Act 1991 , Ireland , Family courts , District courts
O’Mahony, C., Burns, K., Parkes, A. and Shore, C. (2016) 'Child Care Proceedings in Non-Specialist Courts: The Experience in Ireland', International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family, 30(2), pp. 131-157. doi: 10.1093/lawfam/ebw001
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© The Authors 2016. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. This is a pre-copyedited, author-produced PDF of an article accepted for publication in International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family following peer review. The version of record O’Mahony, C., Burns, K., Parkes, A. & Shore, C. 2016. Child Care Proceedings in Non-Specialist Courts: The Experience in Ireland. International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family. is available online at: