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Courts 'poor box' to be scrapped in favour 'more transparent' reparations fund

The poor box has been in existence since before the foundation of the State.

JUSTICE MINISTER ALAN Shatter is to scrap the courts ‘poor box’ in favour of a ‘more transparent’ statutory reparations fund, the government has confirmed this evening.

The measure is part of the Criminal Justice Community Sanctions Bill which the Minister intends to publish the general scheme of in the coming days.

Among the measures in the bill will be the abolition of the poor box with the establishment of a statutory fund that will be paid into and administered centrally and more transparently, rather than the current practice of judges deciding which charities get money.

The practice of courts directing that money be paid into a poor box in lieu of, or in conjunction with another penalty, is a one that pre-dates the foundation of the State.

It’s predominantly used by the District Courts who deal with criminal offences of a less serious nature than other jurisdictions.  The individual amounts can vary substantially depending on factors like ability to pay, other penalties imposed and the nature of the offences committed.

In 2005, the Law Reform Commission recommended that the operation of the poor box be put on a statutory footing with a number of recommendations to make the system more accountable.

It was recommended that rather than leaving it to individual judges to decide what charities would benefit, all the money should be paid into one central fund and a committee should be set up to administer that fund and decide which charities should benefit.

Figures released by the Courts Service last month showed that over €2 million was paid out to over 700 charities, groups and individuals over the 12 month period in 2012 with Oxfam Ireland the biggest beneficiary, taking in some €126,200.

Five other organisations also receiving donations above €50,000: they were the Friends of St. Patrick’s, the Cappuchin Day Centre, Sightsavers International, the Christian Blind Mission and Action Aid Ireland. The Garda Benevolent Trust Fund, Aware and the Jack and Jill Foundation were all inside the top 20, and received donations of over €20,000 each.

Read: Oxfam, Focus and Garda Trust all benefit from €2m ‘Poor Box’ fund

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