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Court declines ‘troubled’ boy’s claim against Tusla

The High Court has declined to make a declaration that Tusla is in contempt of court by failing to provide a special care place for a “very troubled” 14-year-old boy.

Lawyers for the boy, who was suing through his mother, had asked the court to make such a declaration.

They said the State’s child and family agency was in “systemic breach” of High Court orders to provide such a place, and there was no end in sight.

Tusla said it has special care beds available, but it does not have enough staff to open them because it cannot get staff at the rates of pay it is able to offer.

The court ruled lawyers for the boy and his mother had not followed the established procedures to accuse a person or a body of contempt of court.

The boy, described by the judge as “very troubled and vulnerable”, still does not have an appropriate placement. It is understood an appeal is being considered.

The boy was described by Mr Justice John Jordan in a ruling as being at “very serious risk” of death, serious injury or of committing serious crime.

Tusla, the State’s child and family agency, said it cannot hire the staff needed to open bed spaces

The judge said the boy was apparently suffering “ongoing abuse” at the hands of adults and “continuing on a path of criminality and drug addiction in the drugs underworld he now appears to inhabit”.

The boy’s lawyers said they did not want any member of Tusla arrested or detained.

But they submitted that a declaration from the High Court that the agency was in contempt of court would be worthwhile and of use because it would be a matter of the “utmost seriousness” if a public body was to be held in contempt.

Tusla acknowledged that the orders to provide the boy with a place in a special care facility had not been complied with but opposed the granting of the declaration.

The court heard the boy had been the subject of a previous special care order but had transitioned out of that into step down accommodation in October 2022. His behaviour had regressed soon afterwards.

He was moved to special care again later that year, but that order expired in September last year.

He then immediately returned to what were described as “high risk behaviours”. He was sleeping rough and was suspected of being involved in selling class A drugs.

His mother began judicial review proceedings, and a special care order was granted in December last year. However, despite a further order being granted last month, no placement has been allocated to the boy.

Tusla has said beds are available in purpose built special care units but that it does not have sufficient staff to open the beds.

It said it cannot obtain staff at the current rate of pay currently sanctioned by Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Paschal Donohoe.

However, lawyers for the boy and his mother said Tusla had not provided evidence about its reasons for failing to provide the special care place.

Judge Jordan said it was difficult to comprehend why the agency did not embrace the opportunity to “fully and comprehensively explain the reason for its non-compliance with the court’s order.”

He added it was not unreasonable for the boy’s mother to call for a comprehensive explanation and evidence in circumstances where her son’s life, health, safety, development and welfare were at risk.

However, the judge declined to grant the declaration that Tusla was in contempt of court because the boy’s lawyers had not followed the correct procedure.

Mr Justice Jordan said that seeking a contempt declaration was “akin to an exercise aimed at reinventing the wheel”. The judge said it may be the case that contempt jurisdiction needs updating.

However, he said anyone accused of contempt faces the possibility of facing significant sanctions and is entitled to have the correct procedure followed.

This procedure would involve bringing a motion for attachment and committal.

He said he saw no justification for deviating from the procedure laid down in the rules for dealing with contempt applications.

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