887. Deputy Réada Cronin asked the Minister for Justice if she will commit to a review of the operation of the section 47 assessment system in contentious custody and access cases (details supplied); and if she will make a statement on the matter. [41792/21]
Minister of State at the Department of Justice (Deputy Hildegarde Naughton): Section 47 of the Family Law Act 1995 provides that the Circuit Court or High Court may order a report in writing on any question affecting the welfare of a party to family law proceedings or any other person to whom they relate.
Section 3 of the Guardianship of Infants Act 1964 provides that the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration for the court in any proceedings where guardianship, custody or upbringing of, or access to, a child is in question. Section 32(1) of the 1964 Act provides that in such proceedings, the court may do either or both of the following:
(a) give directions for the purpose of procuring a written report from an expert on any question affecting the welfare of the child; or
(b) appoint an expert to determine and convey the child’s views.
Assessors and experts in family law proceedings are formally appointed by the court itself
, and answer to the presiding judge in a specific case.
As the Deputy is aware, the Courts are, subject only to the Constitution and the law, independent in the exercise of their statutory functions and the conduct of any family law case is a matter for the presiding judge.
The forthcoming Family Court Bill will provide for a dedicated Family Court structure, as set out in the Programme for Government.
This significant piece of legislation will be a key element of the development of a more efficient and user-friendly family court system that puts families at the centre of its activities, provides access to specialist supports and encourages the use of alternative dispute resolution in family law proceedings. The development of sensible, comprehensive and sensitive family law procedures, particularly for vulnerable families, will be central to the new system. My Department has also established a Family Justice Oversight Group to agree a high-level vision and key medium and longer-term objectives for the development of a national family justice system in parallel with the establishment of a dedicated Family Court structure as envisaged by the Family Court Bill.