Court Reports in Family Law
A change to the Irish Constitution, following the 2012 referendum, made it a requirement (in circumstances where children are of requisite age and maturity) for the “voice of the child” to be heard by the court in proceedings which affect them. The judge must take their views into account, while always focusing on the best interest of the child. The best interest of the child may not always be the same thing as what the child wants, but the child’s view will be heard.
Article 42A, which was inserted into the Irish Constitution, strengthens the position of children in legal proceedings, and gives them rights of their own, including in family law cases.
Article 42A includes the following statement:
The State recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights.
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One of the ways the court will hear information about the views of the child is through particular reports it can order to help with its decision making.
The main reports are set out below:
Section 47 Reports
Section 47 of the Family Law Act provides for “Social Reports in Family Law Proceedings”. Section 47 reports are intended to provide the court with information, in writing, about anything affecting the welfare of someone the family law case is about – they are usually about the children and will generally include recommendations to the Court that assist the Court in making orders in relation to matters affecting children. Section 47 reports are mainly used as part of Circuit Court proceedings. There are no regulations setting out who can conduct Section 47 reports, neither are there any minimum qualifications required of persons who carry out these reports.
Section 32 Reports
Section 32 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 provides that the court can request an expert report on any matter affecting the welfare of the child, and can appoint an expert to determine and convey a child’s views. There are regulations which set out who can be an expert for the purposes of a section 32 report, and the qualifications and experience they must have.
Section 20 Reports
Section 20 reports are carried out by the HSE/Tusla by Social Workers under the Child Care Act 1991. Tusla may also commission an outside agency or individual to carry out aSection 20 report. Section 20 reports are concerned with the welfare of the child and any involvement the family may have with Tusla, including any supports provided or planned.
Children meeting with the Judge
Sometimes judges will meet with children in their chambers to speak with them directly, if they think this would be in the child’s best interests. This will depend on the children’s ages and level of maturity.