Poor box used 1,300 times in three years

The court poor box has been used more than 1,300 times in the last three years in spite of the Government saying in 2014 that it was to be scrapped and replaced with a fund to help victims of crime.

Poor box used 1,300 times in three years

Figures released by Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan show that, while orders to make payments to the box have slowed significantly in many parts of the country, several courts are continuing to use it widely.

In 2015, the poor box was used 843 times, in 2016 the total was 258 and up to the of September of this year it had been availed of 223 times.

The courts in Kerry have developed a reputation as the most prolific users of the poor box — figures for 2016 released by the Courts Service in August showed that almost one third of the €1.53m total collected and distributed came from the court office in Tralee.

However, the statistics from Mr Flanagan, released as a result of a parliamentary question from Dublin TD Tommy Broughan, showed that the Kerry courts have only used the box 21 times so far this year.

In Dungarvan alone it has been used 32 times, and across the Dublin Metropolitan district it has been availed of 96 times.

The court poor box is a non-statutory system used by the district courts to impose a financial charge on a defendant, usually instead of imposing a criminal conviction.

The payments are accounted for by the court office and the accounting procedures are subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General.

“Generally, charities are the recipients of poor box contributions but the decision is solely at the discretion of the Judge who is independent in the matter of sentencing, as in other matters concerning the exercise of judicial functions, subject only to the Constitution and the law,” said Mr Flanagan.

In 2005, the Law Reform Commission recommended a combined reform of the poor box and Probation Act.

Then in early 2014, then minister for justice Alan Shatter proposed to replace it with a reparation fund for the victims of crime.

The poor box is still used in some districts for motoring offences despite the High Court ruling in 2014 that its use was barred under the Road Traffic Act 2010 in relation to offences that attract penalty points, including speeding. This legislation made the imposition of penalty points and a fine mandatory on conviction.

Mr Flanagan confirmed that, in February 2014, the Government approved the drafting of a Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill “to replace the Probation of Offenders Act 1907 with modern provisions dealing with community sanctions and the role of the Probation Service in the criminal justice system”.

“The bill is currently being drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel,” he said.

“It is intended that the legislation will abolish the court poor box and replace it with a statutory reparation fund to provide for a fair, equitable and transparent system of reparation that will apply only to minor offences dealt with by the district court.”

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