677. Deputy Paul Donnelly asked the Minister for Justice the legislation, rules or guidance in relation to the poor box; and the discretion given to judges in relation to the distribution of such funds. [26417/21]
678. Deputy Paul Donnelly asked the Minister for Justice if there is a requirement by the courts to publish the list of recipients of donations to the poor box in the courts system. [26418/21]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 677 and 678 together.
Under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, management of the courts is the responsibility of the Courts Service, which is independent in its functions. However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy, I have had enquiries made with the Courts Service.
Unfortunately, it has not been possible to collate the information requested by the Deputy in the time available. I will write to the Deputy directly when the information is received from the Courts Service.
The following deferred reply was received under Standing Order 51
I refer to Parliamentary Questions Nos. 677 and 678 from 18 May, 2021 wherein you raised queries in relation to the Court Poor Box.
As you will recall, the information requested could not be assembled and presented in the time available, and I undertook to contact you again when the details were to hand.
The information in question has now been received from the Courts Service and I regret that the response has taken so long.
The practice of a court directing that money be paid into the Court Poor Box in lieu of, or in conjunction with, another penalty is a practice which pre-dates the foundation of the State. While there appears to be no statutory basis for it, the practice appears to stem from a Judge’s common-law jurisdiction to exercise discretion in imposing a penalty, if any, and/or imposing other conditions i.e. donations to the Court Poor Box or a particular charity. Each court of first instance (High Court, Circuit Court and District Court) has used the Court Poor Box on occasion, however it is mainly used by the District Court.
I understand that monies are paid out at the discretion of the Judge. In the main, such monies are paid out to local charities, including local branches of national charities, local schools, youth organisations and the Probation Service. When the Court makes an order for a charitable donation, the payment can be effected in three possible ways.
- Payments made to the Court Poor Box;
- Payments made directly to a named charity; or
- Payments made via the Probation Service or to the Gardaí by order of the Court which are not accounted for in the Court Office, and are not included in the annual Poor Box figures.
The vast majority of payments are made directly to a named charity. Monies paid into the general Court Poor Box are distributed, generally at Christmas, and at the discretion of the Judge as outlined above.
The primary responsibility for the Courts Service in relation to the Court Poor box is to ensure:
- that all monies paid into, and payments made from, the Court Poor Box are carried out in accordance with the direction of the Judge and
- that there are adequate and effective systems and procedures in place for recording court orders and accounting for poor box receipts and payments.
As the Deputy will be aware, the Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill 2014 seeks to update the Probation of Offenders Act 1907.
The aim of the new Bill is to provide a modern statement of the law governing community sanctions and the role of the Probation Service in the criminal justice system. It will facilitate the effective and efficient use of community sanctions by the courts and will ensure that the courts have a wide range of appropriate options for dealing with people who have committed minor offences.
The legislation also takes account of the interests of victims of crime by making it a statutory requirement for the courts to have regard to the interests of victims when making decisions about community sanctions.
While the original heads were approved by Government in 2014 they are currently being reviewed in context of the penal policy review underway in my Department.
The policy review of the General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill 2014 in consultation with the Probation Service and the Prison Service is due for completion in the second quarter of this year.
The legislation will abolish the Court Poor Box.
Details of the total value of Poor Box receipts together with the value of Poor Box payments issued are published each year in the Courts Service Annual Report. The most recent figures available are in respect of the year 2020.
I trust that this information is of assistance.
Question No. 678 answered with Question No. 677.
Question No. 679 answered with Question No. 634.