702. Deputy Richard Boyd Barrett asked the Minister for Justice the actions taken regarding the funds collected from the courts via the judges using the donation to poor box procedure as part of sentencing; if there are ways of accessing these funds for community projects and other causes; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [12711/21]
Minister for Justice (Deputy Helen McEntee): 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 and I am advised as follows.
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. It usually arises where the offence is minor in nature and would not attract a custodial sentence.
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 Justice Plan 2021, which I published recently, commits to commencing a policy review of the Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill 2014 in consultation with the Probation Service and Irish Prison Service. It is intended that the proposed legislation will 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 legislation will abolish the Court Poor Box and replace it with a statutory Reparation Fund, as recommended by the Law Reform Commission. The fund would provide for a fair, equitable and transparent system of reparation that will apply only to minor offences dealt with by the District Court. I expect to publish a policy review shortly.