Sunday, May 06, 2007

A Legal Twilight Zone Which Is All Too Real

Irish Independent May 5th 2007-Dearbhail McDonald

Imagine a child is placed in care. Try not to dwell too much on the reason why. Imagine that child is a girl and she is aged 15. Because her welfare was in some sort of jeopardy, she became the subject of an interim care order and was removed, temporarily, from the custody of her mum and delivered into the protective arms of the State.

The child, lets call her Miss E, has been placed in a health board's care following an order by a district court judge. And it is the Health Services Executive- in tandem with her mother as legal guardian- who are jointly responsible for her safety and welfare. Ms E is a sturdy lass; she's had a difficult life but she knows her own mind and is definitely not suicidal.

Imagie Miss E is in the care of the State, but she wants to go to Amsterdam to cruise around the red light district (she's closer to the age of maturity than the age of reason, she can do what she wants). Or maybe she wants to go to Paris to do some shopping (its her money she can do whatever she wants). Or maybe se wants to go to England to terminate her unborn baby because it has a fatal brain condition and it wont survive more than a day after birth. (It's her body and she can do with it what she wants).

According to Miss E's mum, who supports her daughters decisions, as parent and legal guardian of E she does n't need any judge or health official to dictate to her when she can can't permit her offspring to travel out of the country. In any case, Miss E has a constitutional right to travel, that's what the amendment was for, right? But the health board isn't so sure.

Miss E is in its care, and if the child, even with the consent of her mum, is allowed to fly off to Amsterdam, Paris, or England without its knowledge or consent, the board could be in trouble.
Indeed, what if all the kids in its care decided to leave the country (and its custody) without its knowledge or permission? The sensible thing, you might think, is to go back to the judge who made the original care order and clarify the situation. There's even a special provision in the 1991 Child Care Act to allow the HSE, or a relevant party, to apply to the district court judge for directions.

Miss E is fictional. Miss D is not. The current drama unfolding in the High Court surrounding D, a 17 year old girl who wants to travel to England to abort her baby has exposed, once again, Ireland's deadly abortion faultline. But the D Case has also exposed the legal twilight zone that parents and health authorities can find themselves in when children are taken into care. And any new rulings on the powers of the State over minors in its care could have wide-ranging implications.

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