Sunday 23 November 2014

Drivers can no longer use court poor box to avoid points

Paul Melia Environment Correspondent

Published 15/03/2014 | 02:30

Profit
Donations to the poor box will no longer be accepted

The High Court has closed a loophole which allowed thousands of motorists to escape penalty points by making a donation to the court poor box.

It comes after a pensioner who had led a "blameless life with no previous convictions" pleaded guilty to speeding, but was not allowed by the judge to make a contribution to the poor box to avoid a conviction.

Joseph Kennedy sought a judicial review in the High Court, asking it to decide if the District Court judge who heard the case could have struck out the proceedings if a donation was made.

But Mr Justice Gerard Hogan found that the practice among some judges of allowing offenders to escape a conviction through use of the court poor box was incorrect.

The imposition of penalty points in relation to certain traffic offences was mandatory in law, he said, adding that use of the common-law poor box had been "superseded" by these statutory provisions.

"In such cases it must accordingly be concluded that the District Court enjoys no jurisdiction to impose an informal sanction short of actual conviction such as accepting a donation to the poor box," he ruled.

"This would amount to an indirect circumvention of these statutory provisions."

Some 1,700 motorists escaped points and a conviction last year by making a donation. This is because a person required by the court to make a payment to the poor box does not have convictions recorded against them.

Some 366 had cases heard in district courts in the Dublin Metropolitan Area, followed by 222 in Limerick/Kerry, and 197 in Kerry. There were no recorded incidents in five of the 24 districts.

The High Court was asked to consider if in cases where the accused did not dispute the offence, did a District Court judge have any jurisdiction to strike out the proceedings in return for the accused making a donation to the court poor box.

CIRCUMSTANCES

"The real question . . . is whether the district judge had any other option in the circumstances. I find myself obliged to conclude that he had no such option," said Judge Hogan.

He noted that Mr Kennedy could have paid a fixed-charge fine of €80, and received two penalty points, had the fine been paid within 28 days of the offence. Only if the fine was unpaid after 56 days was a court summons issued.

Mr Kennedy could not be reached for comment. The cost of the judicial review is not known.

It is understood the judgment has been circulated to all district courts.

Irish Independent

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