Judge renames court poor box over ‘repugnant’ title

Donations in Ennis will now be made to Court Discretionary Fund, says Patrick Durcan

Last year, almost €1.3 million was paid in fines to the poor box in courts across the country. File photograph: Collins Courts

Last year, almost €1.3 million was paid in fines to the poor box in courts across the country. File photograph: Collins Courts

 

A district court judge yesterday abolished the poor box in his court – but only in name.

At the outset of the sitting of Ennis District Court, Judge Patrick Durcan said that from now on, the poor box is to be referred to in his court as the Court Discretionary Fund or CDF.

“Since the foundation of the State and prior to that, it has been been referred to as the poor box. I am a great supporter of the concept, but I find the name repugnant and Victorian in this day and age.”

The judge said the new name “reflects a reality that by using that name, it might actually help to try to protect the power of the district court – and other courts – in the matter, as there is a certain element within our society and within the legal establishment trying to get rid of it”.

Last year, almost €1.3 million was paid in fines to the poor box in courts across the country. In some cases, instead of imposing a conviction, a judge can order that a defendant – typically a first-time offender – donate a sum to the court poor box, which in turn will be given to a charity, usually of the judge’s choice.

There have been a number of moves to scrap the poor box, which predates the State and whose origins are obscure. In 2005, the Law Reform Commission recommended a combined reform of the poor box and Probation Act; and in early 2014 then minister for justice Alan Shatter proposed to replace it with a reparation fund for the victims of crime.

The High Court ruled in 2014 that use of the poor box for penalty point offences was barred under the Road Traffic Act 2010.

Yesterday, a Department of Justice spokesman said use of the poor box “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”.

He added: “There is ongoing legislation in the form of the Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill being drafted in relation to the Court Poor Box.”