Drivers use poor box to escape points
on 29/10/2013 00:00:00
According to the Courts Service Criminal Case Tracking System, the number of defendants who have been before the court for offences under the Road Traffic Act, and who have received no criminal conviction after payments to the poor box, is 2,836.
There is a wide disparity in how often courts turn to the poor box in road traffic cases. For example, in Limerick, it has been used in 365 cases, while in Cork City it has only been used in only one case.
The Department of Justice said the court poor box is a "non-statutory" system used mostly in the district courts, adding that any payments made to it were accounted for by each court office and the accounting of it was subject to audit by the comptroller and auditor general.
It is up to the judge to decide whether to accept a payment to the box in lieu of imposing a conviction.
According to the Road Safety Authority website, the aim of penalty points "is to improve driver behaviour in Ireland and reduce the levels of death and serious injury on our roads".
Yet drivers in these cases do not receive that sanction - they move no closer to the 12-points maximum which applies before a driver faces disqualification. In May this year alone, 177 defendants escaped points on their licence because they made a donation to the court poor box.
Earlier this year, Agriculture Minister Simon Coveney paid €200 to a charity nominated by Midleton District Court after a speeding offence against him was struck out.
He was named in the speeding summons but he told the court one of his official ministerial drivers was behind the wheel when the car was clocked doing 70km/h in a 60km/h zone on the Cork to Cobh road.
The Department of Justice confirmed that the court poor box system is currently being examined with a view to "bringing forward proposals for a transparent statutory reparation scheme".
It is being looked at as part of a new bill to replace the Probation of Offenders Act with new provisions dealing with community sanctions.
Questions were raised last week about the thoroughness of the points system after it emerged that, in some parts of the country, as few as 15% of drivers who appeared in court had points applied to their licence. The highest percentage was just 60%.
It emerged that even though it is an offence not to bring one's licence to court, not only were large numbers of drivers escaping sanction for that offence, their licence was also not being endorsed for the offence for which they were in court.