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 with the Courts Service who inform me that the Wards of Court Office operates family friendly measures with respect to minors. Each minor is assigned a case officer who liaises with the court appointed guardian. The case officer meets with the guardian to work through any requirements and provide assistance in terms of accommodation, care, health needs and access to services. The case officer in the Wards of Court Office also liaises directly with a case manager, overseeing the care of the minor on behalf of the guardian or parents, where one is appointed.
I am further informed that the Wards of Court Office is cognisant of difficulties that can be encountered by the guardians of minor wards of court and always strives to ensure that they are dealt with sensitively with the minor's wellbeing at the centre of all considerations.
The Courts Service advises that in a small number of cases, the General Solicitor is appointed as guardian of a minor by the court and the Wards of Court Office deals directly with the Office of the General Solicitor in those circumstances. The Office of the General Solicitor will liaise with the next of kin or care provider of the minor.
Any concerns that a guardian has in relation to their dealings with the Wards of Court Office can also be addressed to the Registrar of Wards of Court or through the Courts Service customer’s complaint procedure.
Family law reform is a major element of the Justice Plan 2021. The Programme for Government contains a commitment to enact a Family Court Bill to create a new dedicated Family Court within the existing court structure and provide for court procedures that support a faster and less adversarial resolution of disputes in specialised centres. In September 2020, Government approved the drafting of a Family Court Bill along the lines of the General Scheme, which has been published. The General Scheme has been referred to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel for drafting and to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice for pre-legislative scrutiny. It should be noted that it is not intended that the Family Court Bill will make provision for matters relating to wards of court, be they children or adults.
The Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 provides a modern statutory framework to support decision-making by adults with capacity difficulties. The Minister for Children, Disability, Equality, Integration and Youth has responsibility for matters relating to the commencement or amendment of the 2015 Act.