113. Deputy Niamh Smyth asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the reason a person (details supplied) cannot receive information in relation to funds that their family require. [43157/17]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): 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 informed me that when a person is taken into wardship, the President of the High Court appoints a committee, usually one person, and that committee has an important role in relation to the ward's property and personal welfare. In approximately 75% of all cases the ward’s committee is a family member or a trusted friend. However, if no suitable or willing relative or friend is available, or if there is a conflict of interest between the ward and the person who would otherwise have been appointed, the President of the High Court can appoint the General Solicitor for Minors and Wards of Court to act as committee.
The General Solicitor is the committee in the case referred to by the Deputy. The fact that one is a relative of another person does not, of itself, give one the right to be informed of the financial position of that other person, whether he/she is a ward of court or not. It is, however, open to a family member to apply to be appointed as a committee of a ward by writing to the Office of the General Solicitor.
The Courts Service has advised that detailed statements providing comprehensive financial information are issued to committees on request and a process of issuing high level financial statements to all committees has now commenced and that such statements will issue automatically on an annual basis.
The Courts Service has also informed me that the committee of a ward is involved with the Office of Wards of Court on an ongoing basis in establishing the expenditure needs of a ward. A case officer is appointed to manage the affairs of each ward who is available to meet with the committee initially to discuss the needs and financial arrangements for the ward and is available thereafter as required. Significant purchases or sales such as the sale of a house or lands will not take place without the involvement of the committee.
As the Deputy may be aware, the legislation governing persons who are wards of court dates back to 1871. It has been recognised for some time that reforms were needed to update the law in this area and so the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Act 2015 has been introduced to provide 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 are brought into operation. A high-level Steering Group comprised of senior officials from the Department of Justice and Equality, the Department of Health, the Mental Health Commission and the Courts Service, together with the Director of the Decision Support Service, is overseeing the establishment and commissioning of the Decision Support Service and this work is ongoing.