Reform lies ahead for the Guardian ad Litem (GAL) system in Ireland. The role of the GAL is to represent the voice of the child, through their views and wishes, in legal proceedings. The Child Care (Amendment) Act 2022 was signed into law in July 2022, with the aim of strengthening the voice of children in childcare law proceedings by creating a national standardised GAL service.
The Act provides for:
- A presumption in favour of appointment of a GAL in proceedings before the District Court
- Mandatory appointment in special care cases before the High Court
- Specified process of appointment of GAL to cases
- Definition of the role and status of a GAL
- Power of Minister to make regulations on the qualifications and experience required to act as a GAL
- A transition period in the first year of operation of the Executive Office to provide for a seamless transition from the current system to a new model of provision
- An obligation on the Court, where a child is capable of forming their own views, to determine how to facilitate the child in expressing those views, and
- A further obligation on the Court to give any views that the child wishes to express due weight, having regard to the child’s age and maturity
The Act currently awaits commencement, at which point it will replace the current provisions under Section 26 of the Child Care Act 1991. Given the ad hoc system that has been in place since the introduction of the latter, it is hoped that the reforming legislation will introduce consistency to child care cases nationally. The extent to which the service will supervise or regulate GALs is unknown but may be likely to evolve over time. Another consideration is the possible additional demand for suitably qualified GALs, and the related staffing shortages this could create for organisations such as the Child and Family Agency.
Stakeholders and observers keenly await further updates in this area, but if you would like to discuss any queries, please contact a member of our Health & Prosecutions team.
The content of this article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal or other advice.