Child Law Clinic launched by UCC Law Faculty

Dr Ursula Kilkelly, Faculty of Law, UCC

A new initiative at the Law Faculty at University College Cork hopes to lead the way in using the law to bring about reform in child law and policy. The Child Law Clinic was developed with partners at the University of Pennsylvania and Temple University in Philadelphia where, like many US law schools, clinical education forms an integral part of the student experience. The aim of the Child Law Clinic at Cork is to give students experience working on practical legal issues affecting children, and ‘real’ cases about to or already being litigated in the courts. It puts the considerable research expertise and experience of graduate law students and Law Faculty members at the disposal of legal professionals and thereby aims to improve the quality of litigation in children’s cases.

There is relatively little public interest law practised in Ireland and even less in children’s cases. Yet there are many aspects of child law and policy worthy of challenge and strategic litigation can play an influential role in bringing about improvements in the way in which children are treated. As organisations like the Children’s Law Centre in Belfast and Juvenile Law Centre in Philadelphia show, initiating legal action can focus attention on a particular legal issue and bring about change on behalf of individual or groups of children. In some cases, this can have a wider and more immediate effect than reform brought about through traditional campaigning and lobbying activities. Juvenile Law Centre for example has introduced amicus curiae briefs in multiple cases involving children at both state and federal levels in the US and has played a crucial role in the US Supreme Court decisions to find unconstitutional the eligibility of children for the sentences of the death penalty and life without parole in non-homicide cases. They also play an important role in the monitoring of courts’ treatment of children and were at the centre of the exposure of corruption in the so-called ‘Cash for Kids’ scandal in Luzerne County (see earlier CCJHR blog entry). JLC also undertakes appellate work challenging decisions of significance to children and it is here that the Child Law Clinic at UCC hopes to make an impact. It hopes also to focus public attention on the ‘big picture’ issues of child law and policy, and support lawyers to co-ordinate their efforts in the representation of individual children, to the benefit of all children.