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Health Board in Contempt for Not Going to Boy's Case
The Irish Times - Friday, January 21, 2005

A judge has held a health board in contempt for failing to appear in the Children's Court to outline its plans to provide care for a 14-year-old boy.

Judge Angela Ní Chondúin had last week ordered the South-Western Area Health board to attend the Children's Court for the boy's case. However, when the case was called yesterday, the health board was not represented.

The boy is being held in Oberstown Boys' Centre in Lusk under a High Court order pending an appropriate care plan being put in place. He faces a charge relating to an assault on a staff member when he was residing in the Ballydowd Special Care Unit in west Dublin, where he had been placed for his own welfare. He also faces a charge relating to an act of criminal damage there.

"The alleged incidents occurred on an evening when he tried to set fire to himself," the boy's solicitor, Ms Catherine Ghent, had said previously.

The boy had been in the same wing as a troubled teenager who was involved in self-harm, and he had asked to be moved. However, he was not moved, and he later attempted to harm himself.

Ms Ghent yesterday asked the court to issue an order of contempt in relation to the health board over its failure to attend the case. Under Section 77 of the 2001 Children's Act, where a child is charged with an offence, the court may adjourn the proceedings and direct the health board for the area in which the child is residing "to convene a family welfare conference in respect of the child and, pending the outcome of the conference, make an emergency care order or a supervision order".

Judge Ní Chondúin agreed and said she was holding the health service executive's chief officer, Mr Pat Donnelly, in contempt of court. She agreed that the health board should be notified to allow it the opportunity to purge the contempt.

In relation to the criminal charges against the boy, a "not guilty" plea has been entered and he is to face trial next month.

Ms Ghent also said that the techniques of physical restraint used in the Ballydowd Special Care Unit are to be challenged by the defence, using expert witnesses.