Court poor box payments to organisations are to be published in the coming weeks on the courts service website in “the interests of greater accountability and transparency”.
This is the first of what is expected to be a number of sweeping changes to the system whereby offenders contribute to charity in lieu of conviction, or in lessening of conviction, at the discretion of individual judges.
It has however yet to be decided if the identity of individuals who have received monies is to be revealed. Individual names are now redacted amid fears of breaching data protection legislation.
In 2017, in District No 17 comprising the Kerry district courts, the names of seven individuals who received sums of between €1,000 and €15,000 have not been released.
Poor box takings vary hugely from district to district and the individual judges decide where the money goes.
“In the public interest and in the interest of greater accountability and transparency the Courts Service intends to publish all poor box payments issued on the courts service website ,” the Courts Funds Office has stated in a letter seen by the Irish Examiner.
Meanwhile, it has also emerged that legislation is being drafted to abolish the court poor box as it stands, and replace it with “a fair, equitable and transparent” system of reparation.
The new system will be confined to minor offences. And the sanctions look set to be community-based and with greater involvement of the Probation Service, the private secretary to the Minister for Justice and Equality has told the mother of a south Kerry man whose son was asked to pay €5,000 to the poor box last December, to avoid jail. The young man had already paid more than €12,000 in compensation to victims of late-night assaults which he had admitted.
The woman and her son had expected the matter to be finalised in December at Cahersiveen District Court, but instead he was told there would have to be an additional €5,000 paid, this time to the poor box, and the matter had been adjourned. Solicitor Padraig O’Connell confirmed the details.
Meanwhile, poor box donations in Kerry District courts for 2017 amounted to €520,960.99. The figure is an increase on the almost 400,000 collected in 2016. Some €467,000 of the 2017 fund has been distributed among 70 charities
Kerry regularly accounts for the single biggest poor box collections in any court district. However, there has been growing concern as much as 90% of this money goes to overseas charities.
Most of the money donated in Kerry in 2017 went to African and other overseas charities. The Christian Blind Mission, for instance, received €51,000 and SightSavers International got a similar sum. In contrast, the Kerry Rape & Sexual Abuse Centre, which has publically called for an increase, got €250.
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