The Legal Aid Board has also issued a notice to District Court family law solicitors, detailing who will qualify to make these ‘voice of the child' reports and the related pay rates for the work.
From today, funding for a ‘voice of the child report’ will be automatically granted on private practitioner legal aid certificates.
Therefore, no further paperwork is required for payment from the Legal Aid Board for these reports.
However, this automatic authorisation does not extend to the reports in domestic violence proceedings where a ‘voice of the child report’ is sought.
A separate application must be made in these cases and authorisation will be granted where the court has ordered the report and a suitable expert has provided it.
The board will pay, on behalf of the legally aided person, 50% of the relevant fee stipulated in the regulations.
Where the expert is called as a witness, the Legal Aid Board will pay, on behalf of the legally aided person, 50% of the expert’s expenses in attending court to a maximum of €250.
Section 32 of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964 (as inserted by section 63 of the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015) provides that a court may appoint an expert to determine and convey the child’s views (known as a 'voice of the child report').
Section 27(1) of the Domestic Violence Act 2018 makes similar provision in relation to an application for a domestic violence order where the order is sought of behalf of a child.
Under the regulations published on 4 January, the following experts are deemed qualified:
- Psychiatrists who have practised with children and adolescents for a relevant period,
- Registered psychologists with an appropriate qualification under the Health and Social Care Professionals Act 2005,
- Social care workers with equivalent qualifications,
- Social workers entered on the register of social workers, and
- Registered teachers.
The relevant period of practice has been decided as five years under the regulations.
The expert appointed must:
- Ascertain the maturity of the child,
- Ascertain whether or not the child is capable of forming his or her views on the matters that are the subject of the proceedings, and report to the court accordingly,
- Where a child is not capable of forming his or her own views on the matters before the court, the expert must ascertain the views of the child either generally or on any specific questions which the court asks,
- Facilitate the free expression by the child of his or her views,
- Ascertain whether the views expressed by the child are expressed as a result of undue influence on the part of another person and, if so, facilitate the expression of views that are not the result of such undue influence,
- Furnish a report to the court.
The fee structure varies according to whether a report is written.
A fee of €240 is prescribed where such a report is not required. A higher fee of €325 applies where such a report is required.
Where the expert is called as a witness, they are entitled to seek a maximum of €250 in expenses.