Tuesday, 20th September 2005: The Law Reform Commission’s Report on The Court Poor Box:
Probation of Offenders will be formally launched by P.J. Fitzpatrick, Chief Executive Officer of the
Courts Service at the Commission’s offices at 6pm this evening.
Background to the Report
The Report being launched today forms part of the Commission’s Programme of Law Reform 2000- 2007. It follows the publication by the Commission in 2004 of a Consultation Paper on The Court Poor Box. The Court Poor Box is used where a person charged with a minor offence may be given an opportunity to avoid a criminal record by making a contribution to charity through the Court Poor Box. The Consultation Paper examined the operation of the current Court Poor Box system including the types of offences and offenders to which it is applied, the amounts which are contributed, the recording of contributions and the tax and revenue implications of the manner in which the current system operates. The Consultation Paper also examined the Probation of Offenders Act 1907 which is often used in conjunction with the Court Poor Box. The Consultation Paper provisionally recommended that the Court Poor Box should be reformed and replaced with a statutory system based on the positive elements of the current regime. The Report published today comes to the same conclusion, but with some significant extra recommendations.
The Commission recommends that the Court Poor Box should be incorporated into a fully reformed
Probation Act. The Commission noted that the Probation of Offenders Act 1907 is in need of comprehensive reform as recommended by the Final Report of the Expert Group on the Probation and Welfare Service, 1999. For the purpose of this Report, the Commission focuses on the provisions of the 1907 Act which allow for the dismissal or conditional discharge of a charge. The Commission is recommending reforms to expand the range of options open to the courts and in particular, the District Court, when sentencing less culpable offenders.
Summary of key recommendations
- A statutory framework for the reformed Court Poor Box, which the Commission recommends should be renamed the Financial Reparation Order, in the context of the dismissal of a charge only. This means that the disposition cannot be applied where an offender has been convicted of the offence in question.
- The Commission recommends that the proposed Financial Reparation Order should be incorporated into a fully reformed Probation of Offenders Act 1907. The relevant provisions of the 1907 would be repealed and replaced with a new system under which a court can, in
appropriate circumstances, dismiss or conditionally dismiss a charge against an offender while imposing some sanction.
- The new system would allow for the ‘Full Dismissal’ of a charge against an offender. No conviction is recorded and no conditions can be imposed.
- The new system would also allow for the ‘Conditional Dismissal’ of a charge against an offender. In this case, no conviction would be recorded once the conditions of the dismissal
have been fulfilled. Payment by way of a Financial Reparation Order would be one of the conditions.
- Another condition would be that the offender enters a recognizance to keep the peace and be
of good behaviour for up to 3 years. The recognizance may have a number of orders attached
which reflect those recommended by the Final Report of the Expert Group on the Probation
and Welfare Service, 1999 such as counselling orders, exclusion orders, mediation orders,
reparation orders, residence orders and treatment orders.
- If the conditions were fulfilled, the offence would be fully dismissed and no conviction recorded. Where an offender conditionally dismissed failed to satisfy the conditions of the dismissal, the Commission recommends that he or she may be prosecuted for the original offence.
- The new disposition would apply only in the District Court and only in relation to those
offences which have not been specifically excluded by legislation.
- The Commission recommends that a ring fenced statutory fund be set up into which all
payments under a Financial Reparation Order would be made. The statutory fund would be called the ‘Reparation Fund’. The Commission recommends that the ‘Reparation Fund’ should be established within the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform.
- The Reparation Fund would be distributed on the advice of an Advisory Committee consisting of a judge of the District Court and Circuit Court, a member of the Probation and Welfare Service, a member of the Board of the National Crime Council and a member nominated by the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. Members of the Advisory Committee would be appointed for a term of up to 5 years. The ‘Reparation Fund’ would be applied for purposes which assist the victims of crime and which address offending behaviour.
Report on Court Poor Box: Probation of Offenders