I propose to take Questions Nos. 119 to 122, inclusive, 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. Furthermore, the Office of the General Solicitor for Minors and Wards of Court is an Office of the High Court.
However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had inquiries made and the Courts Service has assured me that it has received the report published on 22 February 2018 by the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Justice and Equality. The Courts Service has advised that it is currently considering the report and its recommendations insofar as they relate to the Courts Service, including the recommendation that an independent review be carried out of the Courts Service’s disposition towards and interaction with wards and their families or guardians.
The Courts Service has further advised that it is committed to providing a high quality and professional service to all users of the courts and that their Customer Service Charter can be accessed on the Courts Service website, which sets out the standard of service that all of their customers can expect.
The Courts Service has informed me that, under current legislative provisions, when a person is taken into Wardship the President of the High Court appoints a Committee (usually one person) to deal with the Ward’s property and, in certain cases, to make recommendations to the Registrar of the Wards of Court for the Ward’s personal welfare or on items of expenditure. These recommendations are taken into account when decisions are being taken on such issues.
In approximately 75% of cases the Ward’s Committee is a family member or trusted friend. In cases where there is no suitable relative who is prepared to act, or where there is disagreement among the Ward’s relatives which cannot be resolved, or where a conflict of interest arises, the Court may appoint the “General Solicitor for Minors and Wards of Court” to act as Committee. In such cases, the General Solicitor is appointed as an independent committee to a Ward by the President of the High Court or other High Court judge.
The Committee acts under the directions of the Court either personally or through their Solicitor. In dealing with the affairs of a Ward of Court the General Solicitor is generally under a duty to ensure that confidentiality be afforded to a Ward. There is also a relationship of solicitor/client confidentiality for General Solicitor cases which limits the type of communication she may have with others, even at times family members.
The General Solicitor does, from time to time, seek information from family members and third parties when dealing with Ward's affairs. In the majority of cases a family member or a trusted friend is appointed as the Ward's Committee. In all cases the Wards of Court Office appoints a case officer to deal with the affairs of a ward of court and the case officer liaises and consults with the Committee in relation to the management of the Ward's affairs.