Fianna Fáil’s Niall Collins questioned Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald on whether the insolvency judges should be available for other duties.
The six specialist judges appointed to deal with insolvency cases across the country will have to take on the added responsibility of dealing with cases under new mental capacity legislation.
The circuit court judges have dealt with 368 cases under the Personal Insolvency Act 2012 since October. The “cadre” of six specialist judges were appointed under the Act “to facilitate the speedy consideration of insolvency applications by that court”.
Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Niall Collins had questioned Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald on whether those judges would be available for other duties.
Ms Fitzgerald has admitted the volume of cases processed by the Insolvency Service of Ireland “up until now falls short of expectations”.
However, she pointed out to Mr Collins that the number of insolvency applications is increasing by the month and will continue to increase into the autumn.
Nonetheless, she said: “It is my intention that these new judges will also be given jurisdiction to deal with applications to the Circuit Court under the Assisted Decision-Making [Capacity] Bill 2013, of which there are likely to be very significant numbers when that bill is enacted later this year. The legislation assigning functions to the specialist judges will, of course, be kept under review in my department.”
At present, where a person has a serious impairment of their decision-making capacity, for example through acquired brain injury, the only option is to make the person a ward of court. However, the Assisted Decision-Making (Capacity) Bill will make the process less intrusive, allowing a person to appoint a decision maker on their behalf. In a number of cases the circuit court will have to appoint the “decision-maker” on the person’s behalf and the appointee will be subject to the court’s scrutiny.
Responding to the justice minister, Mr Collins said: “I welcome that they are going to multitask rather than sit and wait for insolvency cases which are not materialising”.
Meanwhile, Ms Fitzgerald has told Mr Collins’s party colleague Michael McGratth that, to date, almost 1,000 applications have been made to the Insolvency Service of Ireland and almost 200 cases have reached a successful conclusion.
“There have been 164 bankruptcies so far this year,” she said. “Up to 61% of residual debt has been written off in some cases involving secured debt and over 80% of debt was written off in cases of unsecured debt. So far this year, the ISI is dealing with over €0.5bn of debt, and it expects the increase in cases to continue over the coming months.”
She said the service “will be launching an information campaign later this year in an effort to reach out to those struggling with debt and make it clear to them that there is a solution for everyone”.
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