September 23, 2022

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The president of the High Court has expressed concern about the lack of sufficient specialist services in the State for those suffering from eating disorders.

Ms Justice Mary Irvine said she has seen an “ever increasing” number of eating disorder cases, many involving high-achieving young people, in the wardship list. She said it is “deeply troubling” that, over the years, there were not enough specialist beds provided for those affected.

Speaking after tributes were paid to her when presiding over the wardship list before her retirement on Wednesday, Ms Justice Irvine said one of the “most surprising” things about her presidency of the High Court is how she herself has been affected by wardship.

“It has been a privilege; it has been at times depressing but it has given me an opportunity to see my own good fortune in life,” she said. “Most wards are not born into the same middle-class cot the rest of us are born into, it has given me an opportunity to meet many of these people and to hear their voices and see what I can do for them.”

She would never forget evidence from the parents of two children in two separate cases, the judge added. One was the JJ case, involving a young boy who sustained permanent devastating injuries in a road accident, where Ms Justice Irvine was asked to decide whether his parents, rather than his treating hospital, should have control over his medical treatment.

The case raised significant issues in relation to the rights of parents and children, end-of-life decision-making and wardship. The Supreme Court ultimately upheld the judge’s decision in favour of the hospital having control over the boy’s treatment but varied the High Court orders to maximise the parents’ involvement in the treatment and to ensure certain measures would only happen if certain situations arose.

The second was the Ms A case, which the judge previously described as the most disturbing case to come before her in her 12 years on the High Court bench.

Ms A, who had been diagnosed with a severe personality disorder, was described as highly traumatised and dangerous. After three psychiatrists said Ms A had capacity, Tusla, the Child and Family Agency withdrew a wardship application initiated just before she was about to turn 18 and exit secure care. The wardship application did not proceed and the judge directed disclosure to gardaí of information concerning the risk posed by the young woman.

Tributes were paid to the judge on Monday by lawyers who regularly appear before her in the wardship list. Senior counsel James O’Reilly said she had “made justice work and survive” in the “most trying” circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Barrister David Leahy said the universal message from the lawyers in the list was that the judge had approached wards, among the most vulnerable people in society, with “kindness, empathy and a sense of justice”.

Noting the judge’s view that the use of technology had radically improved access to justice for this “very vulnerable” group, Mr Leahy said he was very struck that the adult son of a vulnerable woman was able to give his views on the wardship application from a tractor cab. That would not have happened were it not for the court’s “radical and successful adoption of technology”, he said.

Patricia Hickey, general solicitor for wards of court, thanked the judge for ensuring the “most important thing, that the voices of wards were heard and their rights protected”.

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