Over €2m in poor box payments last year through court fines

Judges around the country directed more than 1,000 offenders pay money to charity

St Vincent de Paul volunteers: the charity got nearly €130,000 from the poor box last year.  Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

St Vincent de Paul volunteers: the charity got nearly €130,000 from the poor box last year. Photograph: Frank Miller/The Irish Times

 

Charities and individuals received over €2 million from court poor boxes last year, the Courts Service figures show.

Judges around the country directed offenders to pay into the poor box on more than 1,000 occasions. The payments to charities nominated by judges are usually ordered instead of convictions and fines for minor offences.

The biggest beneficiary was the Society of St Vincent de Paul, with 92 branches getting almost €130,000.

Sightsavers and the Christian Blind Mission received the next highest payments, with each receiving €120,000 from Tralee District Court.

Ethiopiaid got €90,000, while seven branches of the Simon Community received €53,220 between them.

A number of individuals are also listed as having received payments from the poor boxes. Judges can order money to be paid to individuals or appoint a Garda or social worker to pass money to an individual.

A spokesman for the Courts Service said all such payments were receipted and centrally accounted for.

The Courts Service was listed as the recipient of almost €15,000 in payments made in 2014. A spokesman for the Courts Service said the money was used to engage Guardians at Law to act on behalf of children in cases involving them.

Some courts make greater use of the poor-box than others. Tralee District Court ordered most payments, and the most money, last year. The court directed 70 offenders to pay more than €880,000 to charity last year, accounting for 15 of the 20 largest payments made to the poor box nationally.

The next highest amount was in Cork District Court which directed more than €132,000 to be be paid by 46 people. The Criminal Courts of Justice, the Dublin city Summons Office and Naas District Court all directed numerous payments totalling more than €100,000 last year.

A spokesman for the Courts Service said the practice of courts directing money to be paid into a court poor box either in lieu of, or alongside, another penalty “predates the foundation of the State”.

The practice is predominantly used by district courts which deal with less serious criminal offences. The amounts can vary substantially depending on ability to pay, other penalties imposed and the offences.

“The option of paying into the court poor box arises usually where the offence is minor in nature and would not attract a custodial sentence,” the spokesman said.

It could sometimes be a more meaningful punishment than the maximum fine when the value of a fine might have been eroded by inflation, he said.

Public-order offences, including breaches of the peace, intoxication and disorderly conduct in a public place, were the most common offences for which the poor box option was given to defendants. It can also be used in traffic offences, first-time minor drug offences and offences against property or animals.

There were many reasons and instances why the poor box was used by judges, the spokesman said. The accused might never previously have been before the courts, might have pleaded guilty, or a conviction might be inappropriate or adversely affect employment and working abroad.

“When combined with the Probation of Offenders Act it provides an option where some financial penalty is considered merited but a conviction and fine are not.”