Thursday 23 November 2017

Judges may face PAC over ward of court investments

PAC member Shane Ross said answers were needed
PAC member Shane Ross said answers were needed
Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Several judges could be asked to appear before the Dáil's spending watchdog to answer questions about the poor performance of investment funds managed by the courts.

TDs have expressed concern over the management of cash held under the control of the courts for the benefit of wards of court or minors who have been awarded damages.

Over €1.3bn is held for this purpose and much of it is invested in the markets to ensure ongoing payments can be made to 14,000 children until they turn 18, and 4,500 adults who cannot represent themselves.

Many of the people involved have been made wards of court due to a mental incapacity, such as a brain injury.

However, millions of euro was lost on some investments during the financial crash.

The Dáil Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has heard this led to some funds being reduced in value. In one case cited, a fund of €510,000 fell to €280,145 in a five-year period.

The PAC decided to invite the Courts of Justice Investment Committee to appear before it to discuss the fund losses and the level of information being given to the families of wards.

The investment committee's membership includes President of the High Court Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns, Circuit Court Judge Martin Nolan and District Court Judge Anthony Halpin, as well as several Courts Service officials and two independent members. An external investment advisor also often attends committee meetings.

It is unclear at this stage whether the judges on the investment committee will actually be required to appear at the PAC. Sources said it was more likely Courts Service officials will end up fielding the PAC's questions.


PAC member Shane Ross said the performance of some of the investments had been "absolutely dismal".

The PAC has already compiled a draft report recommending that the Comptroller and Auditor General be allowed to independently assess the operation of the fund.

The Courts Service has insisted the funds are looked after appropriately and investments are conservative to protect the initial payment level. It also says relatives of wards have been kept fully informed about investments through quarterly updates.

Irish Independent

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