Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if a right exists to request a second opinion following the issuing of a section 47 report; and if not, her plans to amend the legislation such that a right to submit a second opinion is included. [37901/16]
45. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if professionals engaged by courts to compile section 47 reports must sign up to a code of ethics in regard to that specific aspect of their professional practice. [37902/16]
46. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality if any formal written standards exist which must be adhered to by professionals in compiling section 47 reports. [37903/16]
47. Deputy Clare Daly asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality the professional qualifications that must be held by persons empowered to compile section 47 reports. [37904/16]
Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I propose to take Questions Nos. 44 to 47, inclusive, together.
As the Deputy is aware, under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, management of the courts is the responsibility of the Courts Service which is independent in exercising its functions.
However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had enquiries made and the Courts Service has informed me that section 47 of the Family Law Act 1995 provides that a Court may, of its own motion or on application to it in that behalf by a party to the proceedings, order a report in writing on any question affecting the welfare of a party to the proceedings or any other person to whom they relate. The Court in question is the Circuit Court or the High Court due to the jurisdictional provisions set out in section 47 and the welfare of parties to the proceedings usually relates to a child or children of such relationships.
The qualifications of the expert are determined by the issues of concern in the families in question. There are no regulations that require experts to hold specific qualifications but the people engaged in this process are usually qualified and practising psychologists or psychiatrists, depending on the issues involved. The experts appointed under section 47 are required to act in accordance with the standards and codes of conduct of their professional bodies. A right does not exist to request a second opinion following the issuing of a section 47 report. The process of appointing experts under section 47 is such that the identity of the expert required is usually agreed by the parties before coming to court. In the event of a disagreement, the Court will decide on the expert.
The Deputy will be aware that the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015 contains new provisions regarding the best interests of children which have been in operation since 18 January 2016. One of the Act’s important reforms is to facilitate the hearing of the voice of the child in any court proceedings where the guardianship, custody or upbringing of, or access to, a child is in question. Section 63 of the Act inserted a new section 32 into the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964 which provides the court with the option to seek a written expert report on the welfare of the child. The new section 32 also enables the court to appoint an expert to determine and convey the child’s views to the court, so that the child’s voice can be heard in the proceedings. These provisions allow the courts to take account of the evolving capacity of children, and give them the flexibility to ensure that all children’s views can be heard. My Department is currently finalising regulations under the Act which will provide further clarity on matters relating to the appointment of child views experts.