State urged to introduce ‘victim surcharge’ to replace poor box

Support groups claim more than €1.5m donated in courts every year could go to better use

 The UK introduced a victim surcharge in April 2007, which is used to fund victim services.  File photograph: Collins Courts

The UK introduced a victim surcharge in April 2007, which is used to fund victim services. File photograph: Collins Courts

 

The court poor box should be replaced with a “victim surcharge” that would fund groups set up to help people suffering as a result of criminality, leading rights and victims organisations are demanding.

More than €1.5 million a year is paid into poor boxes, mostly in district courts around the country, where offenders are ordered to donate towards charitable causes of a judge’s choosing to forgo a conviction.

The system, of obscure origins that predate the founding of the State, is to be abolished and replaced with a “fair, equitable and transparent system of reparation”, Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has said.

Maria McDonald, a barrister and founding member of the Victims’ Rights Alliance, is calling on the Minister to follow the lead of the UK and Canada in replacing it with a victim surcharge.

“The surcharge could be used in Ireland to establish a victims of crime office, but also any monies used there would then be divvied out to the victim support organisations,” she said.

“That is what the point of that money is in the first place, to rehabilitate.”

Ms McDonald, who represents 16 victims and rights groups, including One in Four, Rape Crisis Network Ireland and Ruhama, said they are struggling to survive on currently available funding.

“The money is just not sufficient to deal with the work they have to do,” she said.

“The small amounts some of these organisations have to support and counsel victims free of charge leaves them relying on volunteers, but they need professionals.”

The UK introduced a victim surcharge in April 2007, which is used to fund victim services.

In Canada, a federal victim surcharge is automatically imposed on offenders at the time of sentencing.

Money collected from offenders goes towards programmes and services for crime victims.