The Government has approved the drafting of the Enforcement of Court Orders (Amendment) Bill 2009 to respond to the recent High Court judgment in the case of Caroline McCann v - Judge of Monaghan District Court, the Commissioner of An Garda Síochána, the Chief Executive of the Irish Prison Service, Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Ireland & the Attorney General. 

The Bill now proposed will amend Sections 6 and 8 of the Enforcement of Court Orders Act 1940. It will have the effect of ensuring that if a debtor does not appear in Court, a summons can be issued and if s/he still fails to appear, a warrant will be issued to arrest him/her and bring him/her before the court. This will enable the court to hear the debtor and satisfy itself whether s/he has wilfully refused to pay and that all other steps possible, including instalment payments and mediation, have been taken to recover the debt. The court will not imprison the debtor unless it is satisfied that s/he has the means to pay. There will be a provision for legal aid in circumstances where the debtor is at risk of imprisonment.

The Bill will be drafted as a matter of urgency to facilitate urgent consideration by the Oireachtas of the matter. It is intended that publication will follow within days and the Bill is expected to complete its passage through the Oireachtas before the summer recess.

Announcing the Government’s approval, the Minister said: "This provision is part of the framework used in civil disputes in relation to debt enforcement. It is used sparingly by the courts, even prior to the recent High Court judgment. However its value is its persuasive power – people tend to settle up when they know they are at risk of prison. I think it is important for the sake of small creditors and especially for family law maintenance disputes, to bring certainty to the current situation, while taking account of the High Court’s view that people who can’t afford to pay shouldn’t be imprisoned.  These amendments will achieve that and I am satisfied they are warranted."

The Minister noted that the Law Reform Commission will publish a wide ranging consultation paper on debt enforcement in September and is planning their annual conference on this subject. "The Commission is undertaking a detailed root and branch review of this complex area.  I look forward to receiving their recommendations in due course." 

26 June 2009