Over €1.5m paid into District Courts poor box in 2016

Amount paid into the court poor box rises by €200,000 despite calls for an end to the practice

The option of the poor box is used in lieu of, or in mitigation of, conviction and is at the discretion of the judge.

The option of the poor box is used in lieu of, or in mitigation of, conviction and is at the discretion of the judge.

 

More than €1.5 million was paid into the court poor box across District Courts in 2016, an increase of €200,000 on the previous year, despite calls for the practice to be curtailed.

Figures released by the Courts Service show that almost one-third of the €1,533,609 total was paid in one area – Tralee, which handles the contributions for District Courts presided over by Judge James O’Connor across Kerry.

In a statement, the Court Service said the poor box is typically used for minor public order offences and “is sometimes used for road traffic offences, first time, minor drug offences and offences against property or animals”. However, it was unable to provide a breakdown of offences for the figures released.

Some 60 per cent of all offences before all District Courts involve road traffic offences, and since June 2011 it is prohibited under law for judges to use the poor box for convictions that would otherwise attract penalty points.

Despite this, some judges have continued with the practice.

The option of the poor box is used in lieu of, or in mitigation of, conviction, and is at the discretion of judge. The beneficiary is not specified at the time of the donation and it is usually the individual judge who decides at the end of each year where the money goes.

Disparity

Hundreds of entities from animal charities to alcohol treatment centres benefited last year from the poor box. The figures show a wide disparity in the amounts taken in in different districts.

The highest sum – at €394,000, or almost one third of the total – was contributed in District Number 17 where the court poor box is widely used in the courts of Killarney, Tralee, Listowel, Kenmare, Cahersiveen/Killorglin and Dingle.

In Roscommon, in contrast, €200 was the total contributed to the poor box. In Cavan, the figure was €450, and in Letterkenny just €550.

Four of the five charities which benefited most from the poor box were chosen in the Tralee district.

Christian Blind Mission received €53,000 from Tralee, Sightsavers International €53,000, Ethiopia Aid €37,500 and Action Aid Ireland €34,000.

The charity which benefited most from the poor box nationally was the Cappuchin Day Centre at €57,785, with €41,120 of this coming from the Criminal Courts of Justice in Dublin.

Other beneficiaries from the almost €166,000 collected by the Criminal Courts of Justice were the Garda Benevolent Trust Fund (€9,510), the Merchants Quay project (€9,245), and the Guild of the Little Flower/Penny Dinners (€8,435). Among the smallest donations in this district was €100 for the head office of Console, which was closed down in 2016 after a financial scandal.

Distributed locally

In Cork, where almost €107,000 was collected, most of the money was distributed locally including to the Cork Penny Dinners (€20,950 ) and the long serving homeless charity the Cork Simon Community which received €18,250.

The Courts service said use of the poor box predates the foundation of the State. “It is predominantly used by the District Courts who deal with criminal offences of a less serious nature than other jurisdictions”.

In 2005, the Law Reform Commission recommended a combined reform of the poor box and the Probation Act, and in early 2014 then minister for justice Alan Shatter proposed replacing it with a reparation fund for crime victims.

In 2014, the High Court ruled it should not be given as an option to avoid conviction in motoring offences involving penalty points and attracting mandatory penalty.

Some €1.3 million was collected by the poor box in 2015, a significant drop on the €2.2 million raised the previous year. The latest figures indicate judges are more willing to use the option again.