Thursday, 13 December 2018
Department of Justice and Equality
Wards of Court
82. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if wards of court continue to benefit adequately from their status in the case of children or adults that have been made wards of court; the extent to which questions have been raised on this issue by family members; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52683/18]
100. To ask the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which further legislative changes are anticipated in respect of the legislation affecting wards of court with a view to better recognition of the changes in circumstances over time which may affect detrimentally the families of wards of court; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [52670/18]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 82 and 100 together.
As the Deputy will be aware, the High Court has jurisdiction in wards of court matters and management of the courts is the responsibility of the Courts Service, which is independent in exercising its functions under the Courts Service Act 1998.
However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had enquiries made and the Courts Service has informed me that between 20 and 30 minors (children under the age of 18) are taken into wardship by the President of the High Court each year. There are a number of reasons why it might be necessary to take a minor into wardship, with some being discharged from wardship when they turn 18. The most common reason is that the child has been awarded substantial damages by the Court and has special housing or care needs.
The Courts Service has advised that wardship is declared only where it is considered to be necessary for the protection and/or benefit of the child. In the cases where there are ongoing care and related needs, it is often more efficient and less costly to the child if such matters can be looked after by the Wards of Court Office in consultation with the child’s guardians and under the direction of the President of the High Court. The guardians appointed by the President of the High Court are usually the child's parents.
The Wards of Court Office appoints a case officer for each ward of court when he/she is brought into wardship. The case officer meets with the guardian(s) and will liaise with them throughout the wardship to ensure that the care and monetary needs of the child are met, taking into account the initial award. Any questions raised by family members regarding any issue or concern are dealt with by direct contact between the guardian(s) and the case officer.
As the Deputy is aware, wardship funds are not public funds. The funds of a person who is taken into wardship move into the custody and supervision of the High Court which then holds and invests those funds as appropriate for the benefit of the ward. The Courts Service has advised that the management of court funds by the Courts Service is sensitive to, and takes full account of, the needs of the wards of court.
The Courts Service has informed me that a conservative investment policy is followed. When deciding where and how to invest court funds, the overriding objective is the achievement of an optimal total financial return having regard to the need for liquidity and capital security, taking account of income generation and capital growth requirements. Where there is a requirement to generate a higher return to sustain the value of the funds for the longest period possible, such funds are invested in longer term growth and income generating strategies.
The Deputy will also be aware that I have signed the Commencement Order bringing Parts 1, 2 and 3 of the Civil Liability (Amendment) Act 2017 into operation with effect from 1 October 2018. The Act, which allows courts the power to award periodic payments rather than a lump sum payment in cases of catastrophic injury, will provide much needed financial security to persons requiring lifelong care and assistance following a catastrophic injury. I believe that the availability of a periodic payment to catastrophically injured persons will ensure that they will receive the care and assistance they require for the rest of their lives.
In terms of other legislation, the Deputy will be aware the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 was signed into law on 30 December 2015 and provides a modern statutory framework to support decision-making by adults with capacity difficulties. New administrative processes and support measures, including the setting up of the Decision Support Service within the Mental Health Commission (a body under the Department of Health), must be put in place before the substantive provisions of the Act can be commenced.
The Act provides for the repeal of the Lunacy Regulation (Ireland) Act 1871 and the Marriage of Lunatics Act 1811. The current Wards of Court system for adults will be phased out over a three year period from the commencement of Part 6 of the Act. The Act offers a continuum of options to support people in maximising their decision-making capability.
Each adult ward (a ward who has attained the age of 18 years by the date of commencement of Part 6 of the Act) will be reviewed in accordance with the new system. A ward who is found to have capacity will be discharged from wardship. A ward who continues to have capacity needs will be discharged from wardship and offered the support option most appropriate to his or her needs.
I wish to inform the Deputy that no further legislative changes are anticipated at this time.