A member of the Child Care Proceedings in the District Court Research Group will tell an Oireachtas Committee that there is "professional frustration and concern regarding a lack of consistency between courts and about how child care proceedings should be conducted".
Dr Kenneth Burns, senior lecturer in Social Work at the School of Applied Social Studies in University College Cork is among a number of people due to address the Oireachtas Joint Justice Committee, including Government-appointed Child Law Rapporteur, Dr Geoffrey Shannon.
The Child Care Proceedings in the District Court Research Group looked at the issue over seven years and has already published a number of studies on its findings.
Dr Burns will tell the Committee, which has been looking at reform of family law in recent months, that the in camera rule is poorly defined; there is a lack of consistency between courts as to how cases are dealt with; and that the Oireachtas should also define a clear vision as to how the family law system should operate.
On the lack of consistency within courts, which Dr Burns said is a dominant theme in the group's own research, "this lack of consistency and significant differences in court cultures and practices is problematic for a number of reasons".
"Firstly, all participants should expect a degree of predictability in court proceedings. Secondly, citizens participating in court proceedings involving State intervention in family life should not experience significantly different models of practice depending on their address. Thirdly, there is some concern that in courts where an adversarial approach is dominant, that a focus on the welfare of the child can be lost, that this model is not conducive to facilitating children’s participation, it can lead to significant delay in decision-making and significant extra court time for professionals."
As for the in-camera rule, he said "the precise parameters of what is prohibited are not set out, and whether any particular conversation about a set of in camera proceedings would breach the rule largely comes down to the subjective opinion of individual judges."
He added: "In essence, any person who is involved in an in camera proceeding (whether in the field of child protection, private family law or elsewhere) risks being held in contempt of court every time that they discuss the proceedings with anyone other than their legal representative or the other parties to the proceedings."