The "deliberate and intentional policy" of the Child and Family Agency (CFA) not to apply to the High Court for a special care order to put an at-risk teenage boy in a secure unit was unlawful, a judge has ruled.
Ms Justice Miriam O'Regan said the CFA had not fulfilled the terms of the Child Care Act 1991 providing that it apply to the court for a special care order where there was reasonable cause to believe it was for the purpose of protecting the life and welfare of the boy.
The CFA had argued that by the time the dispute came before Ms Justice O'Regan, the matter was moot or pointless because the boy's at-risk behaviour had diminished significantly. He had been in care since December 2017, under an interim order, at an ordinary State-run residential unit and the CFA argued he "continues to manage himself well in the community" there.
Last December, the CFA's national special care committee determined the boy required special care.
However, the service director of the CFA refused to make a recommendation that an application be made to the High Court for a special care order because there was no place available in a secure unit.
The boy's court-appointed guardian brought High Court proceedings which resulted in a finding that the service director's decision was unlawful.
The day after that court ruling, the service director made a formal determination as required by law but, despite the passage of 19 days, no application was made for a special care order on the basis there were no secure accommodation vacancies.
The guardian then brought further proceedings over that decision. He claimed it appeared the CFA's position in relation to the relevant section of the Childcare Act 199 was that, despite its mandatory wording, the CFA does not have to make a decision until there is a place in a special unit available.
This was incorrect and unlawful, it was claimed.
The CFA argued the proceeding was now moot because the boy no longer required special care. The guardian said his behaviour could be considered volatile and there may well be a need for special care in the future.
Ms Justice Miriam O'Regan found the proceedings were not moot. A determination on the case was in the interests of the proper administration of justice and, because of the boy's volatile behaviour, she was satisfied an application for secure care could be repeated.
She was satisfied the "deliberate and intentional policy" of the CFA not to take any steps to apply to the court as per the relevant legislation was inconsistent with the meaning of the legislation.
The failure to take any step whatsoever to fulfil that requirement, without any timescale or explanation connected to the process of such an application to the High Court, was unlawful, she said.