Written Answers. - Legal Proceedings.

Paul McGrath

Question:

657 Mr. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of cases before the courts at each level where his Department is defending an action taken by the parents or guardians of individuals who have been diagnosed autistic; and if he will make a statement on the reason he continues to defend such action by his Department. [7985/01]

Paul McGrath

Question:

658 Mr. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of court cases resolved in each of the past five years in which his Department was the defendant in cases taken by the parents or guardians of individuals who had been diagnosed autistic; the cost of awards made by the courts in each of those years; and the annual legal costs in association with those cases. [7986/01]

Paul McGrath

Question:

659 Mr. McGrath asked the Minister for Education and Science the number of High Court decisions involving cases taken against his Department by the parents or guardians of individuals who have been diagnosed autistic, which have been appealed to the Supreme Court in each of the past five years; the outcome of such appeals; the legal costs of those appeals; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7987/01]

I propose to take Questions Nos. 657 to 659, inclusive, together.

There are currently 42 cases listed before the High Court relating to actions taken by the parents or guardians of individuals who have been diagnosed as autistic.

I regard it as unacceptable that any parent, and particularly a parent of a child with special needs, should find it necessary to resort to litigation to secure their child's educational entitlements. While this Government has presided over an unprecedented level of improvement in special education services, I am aware that much work remains to be done.

A key development in this regard is the recent report of the planning group established in my Department to make recommendations on the arrangements which should be put in place to ensure the most effective provision of high quality co-ordinated services at all stages of education for students with disabilities.

The recommendations brought forward by the planning group provide a valuable blueprint for the development of an efficient and effective special education service which will remove the need for parents to have to resort to litigation to secure their entitlements. It is my intention to seek Government approval to proceed with these measures at the earliest possible date.
In the past five years, 36 cases involving children with autism have been settled or adjourned generally on the basis of provision put in place for the individuals concerned. The following table details the total amount of agreed damages/settlements and legal costs paid in respect of these cases over that period.

Year

Agreed Damages and Settlements

Legal Costs

£

£

1996

30,000

Nil

1997

Nil

125,558.85

1998

60,995.97

40,300.85

1999

697,950

55,227.88

2000

650,481

132,059.41

One High Court decision involving an individual diagnosed with autism has been the subject of an appeal to the Supreme Court in the past five years. That appeal is due to be heard shortly. The outcome and costs of this appeal are not yet known, but the State has undertaken to pay the costs for both sides.