The Court Poor Box – A luxury of the past?

The concept of a Court Poor Box has been a longstanding tradition in Irish District Courts. It affords a defendant an opportunity to avoid a criminal conviction for minor offences by making a charitable donation.

Mr Justice Hogan, in the recent judicial review case of Kennedy v Gibbons, 2014 IEHC 67, described the Court Poor Box as being of:

“obscure and uncertain origins, the existence of the poor box jurisdiction is of such long standing and is so widespread and inveterate, that it must be considered now to be part of the common law which was adopted by Article 50.1 following the coming into force of the Constitution on 29th December, 1937.”

 The system is to be overhauled however, as the Department of Justice, Defence and Equality has issued a General Scheme for the Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill 2014 which was submitted to the Joint Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality. The proposed bill would abolish the Court Poor Box system and replace it with a statutory Reparation Fund for minor offences. The monies generated by the fund would go towards the provision of services and compensation for the victims of crime. The Joint Committee published a Report on 5 June 2014 which appears to welcome the introduction of the fund as a fairer way of distributing money for the compensation, reparation and assistance of victims. The matter is now with the Houses of the Oireachtas for consideration.

Road Traffic Offences

The Court Poor Box has not been an option for defendants guilty of certain road traffic offences since 1 June 2011. Section 55 of the Road Traffic Act 2010 provides that the Probation of Offenders Act 1907 does not apply to a penalty point offence, therefore where a defendant is guilty of a road traffic offence which carries with it the mandatory imposition of penalty points, he/she cannot avoid a formal conviction. The Court Poor Box option continued to be employed by some District Courts for some time following the enactment of this section, however Mr Justice Hogan clarified the position in Kennedy v Gibbons and found that the Road Traffic Act 2010 superseded the traditional informal Court Poor Box sanction and it can therefore no longer be availed for these road traffic matters.

In summary, a defendant guilty of a Road Traffic Offence which carries with it mandatory penalty points can no longer avail of the Court Poor Box as an alternative to formal conviction and will receive the relevant penalty points and fine as provided for in the legislation. In relation to other minor offences, an overhaul of the system is on the horizon and the Court Poor Box may soon be considered a luxury of the past.

Should you have any queries in relation to any of the above please do not hesitate to contact Máirín O’Boyle-Finnegan or your usual contact in Partners at Law.

 

July 2014

Leave a Reply