Court poor box system set to be replaced under new plan

Offenders will now have to pay into fund to provide support to victims of crime

It remained unclear last night whether the new fund would make payments to charities and community groups, which have received €2 million each year from court poor boxes

It remained unclear last night whether the new fund would make payments to charities and community groups, which have received €2 million each year from court poor boxes

Wed, Feb 5, 2014, 09:19

The Government has approved measures to scrap the court poor box system and replace it with a statutory reparations fund into which offenders will make payments to provide support to victims of crime.

It remained unclear last night whether the new fund would make payments to charities and community groups, which have received €2 million each year from court poor boxes. Major beneficiaries have included Oxfam Ireland, Friends of St Patrick’s Hospital in Cork and the Capuchin Day Centre.

The initiative comes alongside moves in new draft legislation to give victims of crime at the lower end of the scale the right to accept reparation payments from offenders. The Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill will be published today by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter.

Probation service
It includes an overhaul of the probation service, the objective being to modernise it, and several measures to broaden the range of options available to deal with victims of crime.

Once enacted, the Bill will bring an end to the practice of judges directing money to be paid into a poor box in lieu of, or alongside, another penalty.

The practice predates the foundation of the State and amounts can vary substantially.

The objective of the new fund is to provide greater transparency and rigour over the payment of penalties while reducing the number of custodial sentences. Some district judges use the poor box routinely by way of an alternative to a fine but others use it rarely, if at all.

It was not clear after the Cabinet’s decision to approve the Bill whether there would be standardised tariffs for reparation payments in respect of certain categories of crime.

About 700 charities and community groups received money from the poor box in 2012 and more than €2 million was paid out. However, the system has been criticised for its lack of consistency.

Penalty points
Two months ago Minister for Transport Leo Varadkar expressed frustration at the use of the poor box in cases where offenders would otherwise get penalty points.

While a central aim of the Bill is to reduce the number of custodial sentences, the payment of reparations in lieu of imprisonment would be restricted to minor offences reserved for the District Court. Payment would be overseen by the court and the judge would take account of the victim’s interests.