Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Questions (314)

Michael Harty


314. Deputy Michael Harty asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the judge of a local District Court controls distribution of the courts discretionary fund; if the distribution of moneys has been centralised; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [21432/18]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

As the Deputy is aware, under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, management of the courts is the responsibility of the Courts Service, which is independent in exercising its functions, which include the provision of information on the courts system.

However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had enquiries made and the Courts Service has advised that the court poor box is a non-statutory system used to impose a financial charge on a defendant to be used for a charitable purpose, usually instead of imposing a criminal conviction. While each court of first instance (High, Circuit and District) has used the poor box system on occasion, it is mainly used in the District Court where the judge may order the defendant to pay a donation into the court poor box in lieu of another penalty and usually arises where the offence is minor in nature and would not attract a custodial sentence.

There are many reasons and instances why the court poor box is used by judges. For example, the accused may never previously have been before the courts; the accused may have pleaded guilty to a minor offence; a conviction might be inappropriate or might adversely affect employment, career or working abroad prospects; and/or the offence may be of a minor or trivial nature.

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. It can sometimes be a more meaningful punishment than the maximum fine.

Payments made to the court poor box are accounted for by the court office concerned and the accounting procedures are subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General. Generally, charities are the recipients of poor box contributions but the decision 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.

The Government has approved the drafting of a Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill to replace the Probation of Offenders Act 1907 with modern provisions dealing with community sanctions and the role of the Probation Service in the criminal justice system. The Bill is currently being drafted by the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. It is intended that the legislation will abolish the court poor box and replace it with a statutory Reparation Fund to provide for a fair, equitable and transparent system of reparation that will apply only to minor offences dealt with by the District Court.