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Charities could lose court poor box cash

Charities may lose out under a review of the court poor box system where District Court fines can be handed over to charities of the judge's choice.

The total fines imposed by the District Court in 2011 was €38m but almost €13m worth of fines imposed were reversed because of further applications to the court so the final figure was around €25m

A further €1.7m was paid into the court poor box.

Justice Minister Alan Shatter says he intends to bring in laws in the near future which could mean that instead of going to charities, poor box money would be ringfenced for reform programmes for offenders, or to help victims.

The minister says he is planning to replace the Probation of Offenders Act 1907 and in that context he is examining recommendations by the Law Reform Commission in relation to the court poor box.

Mr Shatter said he hopes to bring in proposals for a new transparent statutory retribution scheme.

In 2005 the Law Reform Commission recommended that the court poor box be replaced by a statutory reparation fund.

A key element was that the fund should be ringfenced and the money used to assist programmes aimed at preventing offending behaviour and also to help victims of crime.

The commission said the fund should remain linked to the criminal justice process.

In response to a question from Deputy Patrick O'Donovan, Mr Shatter explained that fines imposed by the courts in criminal cases are generally payable to the Exchequer or the appropriate agency or authority nominated within specific laws. Fines are not paid to charities but money can be handed over from the court's poor box.

This is a system used mostly by District Courts to impose a financial charge on a defendant to be used for charity instead of imposing a criminal conviction.

Payments made to the court poor box are subject to audit by the Comptroller and Auditor General. The judge decides which charity gets the money.

csheehy@herald.ie