Poor-box use undermining road campaign - Higgins


Judges using the courts' poorbox system in dealing with traffic offences are "making a mockery" of the Garda's Operation Lifesaver, which aims to reduce the number of deaths on the road, it was claimed by Fine Gael's justice spokesman, Mr Jim Higgins.

He criticised the use by judges of the poor box for their "pet charities". He added that "there is a volume of evidence to suggest that the system is being abused". Those who are rich enough to pay money into the poor box will have a clean record, while those who cannot afford to pay "face the full rigour of the law".

Mr Higgins was speaking during Question Time, at which the Minister for Justice, Mr O'Donoghue, also expressed his concern about the growth in the use of the poor box.

He told the deputy he had referred the issue to the Attorney General for a full report. "When the report is to hand I shall decide what steps would be appropriate in the context of his opinion."

Mr Higgins said that at Kilcock District Court 33 motorists escaped conviction because they were "prepared to pay up to £20,000 in to the district justice's pet charity".

In one case, he said, the motorist was travelling at a speed of 120 m.p.h. on one of the most dangerous stretches of road in the country. "That person, who was in a position to make a substantial payment to the judge's pet charity, walked off without any record whatever."

Operation Lifesaver was operating in Kilcock, "where this particular judge is administering his own particular distorted sense of duty and fair play". He asked if the Minister would introduce legislation to regulate the use of the poor box.

Mr Higgins said that in 1993 a total of £139,750 was paid into the District Courts' poor box and that had jumped to £305,481 last year.

Mr O'Donoghue said it was not open to him "to criticise or in any way to be seen to interfere with decisions of the judiciary".

"The most prudent thing to do is to await the Attorney General's advice in the matter."