Teachers are increasingly being subpoenaed or invited as expert witnesses to give evidence in different types of cases including:
- Family law court cases
- Child custody cases
- Negligence, insurance, and accident cases
- Cases related to child abuse
- Cases related to Child Protection Orders
- Cases related to the implementation of the Child Care Act
Teachers have a clear professional responsibility to act always in their pupils’ best interests, even in circumstances where a Court attendance may prove stressful and traumatic. They should be aware that they are not obliged to attend Court except under summons or subpoena.
However, in relation to the above a teacher is not precluded from attending Court voluntarily to give evidence. This is a matter of professional judgement for the teacher and the teacher may wish to contact the principal, chairperson of the board of management and/or the INTO on the matter.
It is generally recommended however, that teachers should insist on being summoned or subpoenaed to attend Court, since in the first instance the Department insists that a copy of the summons or subpoena be included with the salary returns in order to obtain paid leave of absence. Whoever issues the subpoena or summons should be responsible for paying for substitute cover and this should be a condition of attending the Court.
Attending the Court under subpoena or summons can also provide protection for the teacher in so far as it indicates to all sides that the teacher is not volunteering information and would not normally wish to become involved in the particular case.
Where a teacher is summoned to attend Court the INTO recommends that the following guidelines be observed:
- The teacher is there in his/her professional capacity as a teacher and should generally be expected only to comment in relation to the teaching/learning situation, for example in relation to the child’s attendance, progress or other school related matters. Teachers should note that they are not psychologists or social workers and that their professional expertise relates to the teaching/learning situation.
- Teachers who are asked to attend Court as professionals should indicate their expectation of receiving an appropriate professional fee and full substitute cover.
- The teacher may wish to clear such matters in advance with the principal or chairperson of the board of management.
- All witnesses are obliged to tell the truth under oath. A teacher summoned or subpoenaed as a witness is not directly involved in either side of the case except in his/her capacity as an expert witness and should therefore not require legal representatives.
- It is INTO policy not to provide legal representation in relation to teachers attending Court as witness.
- Where teachers are summoned by a party representing the school, i.e. the insurance company in relation to an accident at school, teaches are advised
to co-operate fully with that party.
- Where solicitors/social workers or psychologists ask teachers for information orally or in writing prior to a Court case with regard to the child’s progress, they should have written permission from both parents, where there are two parents. The principal should be made aware of this request also.