Crime victims to benefit as court poor box scrapped

Victims of crime will benefit most from a government decision to scrap the poor box and instead have offenders pay into a centralised fund.

The Cabinet agreed yesterday to do away with the court poor box and instead have offenders pay into a more transparent fund for minor offences.

The Community Sanctions Bill will also result in reduced prison terms for minor offences and allow for offenders to carry out more community work, the Government said.

Funds, rather than going to charities and other groups, will be focused on essential victim support groups, it was confirmed.

The changes will do away with the traditional way judges decide arbitrarily which charity should benefit from small fines paid by offenders.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter’s department will publish the Criminal Justice Community Sanctions Bill today.

The bill was agreed by the Cabinet yesterday.

A government spokes- woman said the changes would scrap the court poor box in favour of a more “transparent” and statutory “reparations fund”.

She said the legislation would allow for reduced prison time for minor offences.

A department spokes- woman refused to discuss the bill further but did say that the courts service would still oversee a more formal fund, paid into by those dealt with by the courts.

Much debate has surrounded the use of funds collected through the poor box in the courts.

The Kerry Rape Crisis and Sexual Abuse Centre last month called for money collected in court poor boxes to be used to benefit local victims of crime after it emerged the service only got €200 from Kerry offenders last year.

The Courts Service has said the practice of the poor box pre-dates the State and the assignment of money is at the discretion of the district judge.

A report in the Irish Examiner last year also found more than 1,000 drivers avoided penalty points on their driving licence because they made a donation to a poor box.

Figures released by the Courts Service last month showed that over €2m was paid out to over 700 charities, groups and individuals in 2012, with Oxfam Ireland the biggest beneficiary, taking in some €126,200.

The Law Reform Commission previously looked into the practice and said there is no evidence to suggest people were buying their way out of convictions, but it admitted the perception might be damaging.


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