High Court reporters
A senior High Court judge has said the recent "dramatic" increase in the number of actions against the HSE over the assessment of children with special needs coming before the court has needs to be addressed.
Mr Justice Charles Meenan said while he is not making any judgement as to who is responsible for what is clearly a problematic situation, he directed that the HSE appear before the court in December to address this issue.
Mr Justice Meenan, who is the judge in charge of the busy High Court judicial review list, said normally two to three new such cases come before the court each week.
However, in recent week,s the judge said there have been "a dramatic increase" with an average of seven new applications per week where permission has been sought from the court by parties seeking to bring judicial review challenges against the HSE over the assessment of needs.
During Monday's sitting of the court, the judge said a significant number of new cases against the HSE concerned claims over the assessment of needs.
None of the parties involved in those actions can be named for legal reasons.
The cases have been brought on behalf of young children who are seeking various reliefs from the court, including orders requiring the HSE to commence and complete reviews of Assessment of Need applications within a period of six weeks.
The applicants typically seek declarations that the HSE has failed to comply with is legal obligations under the 2005 Disability Act by failing to complete the assessment within a reasonable period of time.
The judge said that rather than grant permission in the cases, or in similar cases that he said will come before the court next week, he was adjourning the matters on notice to the HSE to a date in mid-December.
Obviously there is a problem
He was not prepared to grant the applicants permission, nor put in place the normal directions nor timetables for the exchange of documents in the case.
"Obviously there is a problem" the judge said, adding that he did not know the cause of the problem.
Mr Justice Meenan said he hopes it can be addressed when the lawyers for the HSE and the applicants come before him next month.
This is not the first time the judge has raised questions about cases regarding the assessment of children's needs.
Mr Justice Meenan previously asked on more than one occasion if actions aimed at compelling the HSE to assess the requirements of special needs children within six weeks are the "best use of very limited resources".
He said what generally happens is that the cases are settled on consent shortly after they first come before the courts.
Speaking as neutrally as possible, the judge said he wondered if such practises, when one takes into account the amount of court time and legal fees expended, amounts to "the best use of resources".
In many of the cases which have come before the courts, the parents and guardians of child under 18 claim the HSE has failed to complete assessments, or reviews of assessments, of the child's needs for significant periods of time.
In many cases it is claimed that the failure to complete such assessments or reviews results in the children being deprived of services they require, including speech and language therapy, psychological services and educational services.
It is also claimed that the lack of services adversely effects both the children's lives and the lives of their families.