500. Deputy Peter Burke asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the amount paid to the District Court poor box in each of the 23 districts; the bodies to which it was dispersed in each of the years 2013 to 2016, in tabular form; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [54469/17]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): 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 inquiries made and the Courts Service has informed me that records of poor box receipts and payments are maintained for each local Court Office rather than for each District Court district and so reports on Poor Box Receipts for 2013 to 2016 by Court Office and Poor Box Payments Out for 2013 to 2016 have been forwarded to the Deputy. The Courts Service has advised that details of information relating to individuals have been redacted for data protection purposes.
As the Deputy may be aware, the court poor box is a non-statutory system used by the District Courts to impose a financial charge on a defendant to be used for a charitable purpose, usually instead of imposing a criminal conviction. The option of paying into the court poor box arises usually 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. The accused may never previously have been before the courts, the accused may have pleaded guilty, 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 where the value of a maximum fine may have been eroded by inflation.
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.