I propose to take Questions Nos. 186 to 188, inclusive, together.
As the Deputy is 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 advised that there is already independent oversight of the investment and management of wards' funds. These funds are independently audited by external auditors in compliance with Generally Accepted Auditing Standards (GAAP) and the audited financial statements are published.
The Deputy may also be aware that section 5(1)(a) of the Comptroller and Auditor General (Amendment) Act 1993 expressly excludes the Comptroller and Auditor General (C&AG) from auditing a fund under the control of the courts. While my Department has examined the proposal to amend the 1993 Act to allow wards of court funds to be audited by the C&AG, I am advised that it is considered to be incompatible with the Constitution’s architecture and not consistent with Article 33.1.
Article 33.1 provides “There shall be a Comptroller and Auditor General to control on behalf of the State all disbursements and to audit all accounts of moneys administered by or under the authority of the Oireachtas”. The fact that the wardship funds are not public funds and are subject to the control and supervision of the High Court are considered to be essential obstacles to providing that the C&AG may audit such funds. In addition, it is considered that legislating for C&AG oversight of these funds could also undermine the independence of the judiciary and the administration of justice under Articles 34.1 and 35.2 of the Constitution.
My Department is not minded at this time to propose any amendments to Article 33 of the Constitution.
Finally, as I have already stated, the High Court has jurisdiction in wards of court matters and given the High Court jurisdiction, it is not appropriate for me, as the Minister, to express a view in relation to whether the auditing of wards of court funds is an administrative matter or otherwise.