High Court reporters
A High Court judge has welcomed the resolution of a significant number of actions brought against the HSE over the assessment of children with special needs.
Mr Justice Charles Meenan said the settlement of approximately 20 of these cases was "very satisfactory".
However, he said he remains keen to have a system or process put in place that will help avoid or reduce the number of legal challenges over the assessment of needs being taken in the first place.
The judge made his comments on Wednesday after lawyers representing the HSE, the Minister for Education and those representing the families taking the cases told the court that many of the actions have been settled following discussions between the various parties.
Assessment of Need
The cases have been brought on behalf of young children who were seeking various reliefs from the court including orders requiring the HSE to commence and complete reviews of Assessment of Need applications or related to the access of such services outside the applicants' home areas.
In many of the actions before the court 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 of the children's needs within a reasonable period of time.
None of the parties taking the actions can be named for legal reasons.
Feichin McDonagh SC with Brendan Hennessy Bl for the applicants told the Judge on Wednesday that significant progress had been made.
Many of the cases pending before the court had been settled following discussions with the HSE, counsel said.
However, some 11 cases, concerning assessments of educational needs by the National Council for Special Education (NCSE), an autonomous body that comes under the remit of the Minister for Education, remain outstanding.
Barry O'Donnell SC for the Minister for Education said that the NCSE, was making progress, following detailed discussions with interested parties including teachers and school principals, in its efforts to resolve this issue.
The Minister would be making an announcement in the coming weeks about the new proposed process regarding assessments by the NCSE, counsel added.
In the meantime, counsel asked the court not to formally join the NCSE to the proceedings and to adjourn the relevant cases that remain live until the new process has been made public by the Minister.
David Leahy SC for the HSE said his client had been working to try and resolve the issues raised and had resolved a number of the cases.
It was accepted that there was more work to be done.
The HSE has previously said that it is trying to recruit additional assessors, and to clear the backlog of applications for assessment of needs.
The HSE had also stated that it has no power regarding assessments of educational needs.
Mr Justice Meenan welcomed the very significant work that has been done to resolve the cases.
He said he did not want to undervalue those settlements, but the court wanted to see efforts being made to ensure that assessment of needs action, which he said are invariably settled after a relatively early stage in the proceedings, do not have to be brought before the High Court.
The judge agreed to adjourn all matters to a date in February, when he wants to be updated on how a process can be put in place to resolve the issues he has raised.
He also said that he was not keen to add the NCSE to the proceedings, as adding an additional party to cases would result in even more resources being engaged to deal with legal actions.
Late last year Mr Justice Meenan invited the parties to appear before him over the increase in cases brought by parents with young children with certain needs and requirements seeking various services.
The judge said that from October of last year there had been "a dramatic increase" with an average of seven to eight new applications per week challenging the HSE over the assessment of a child's educational and medical needs.
The judge said he was not making any judgement as to who is responsible for what is clearly a problematic situation, where valuable resources were being expended that could be put to better use in other areas.
He had invited various parties to court to find "efficient" and "cost-effective" solutions.