THE court poor box cannot be used as an alternative to imposing penalty points and a fine in speeding cases, a High Court judge ruled.
Mr Justice Gerard Hogan also said that despite its "obscure and uncertain origins", the use of the poor box in other certain cases is of such longstanding and widespread use it must now be considered to be part of common law.
However, it does not apply in penalty point cases, he said when giving judgment in the case of a pensioner who had challenged District Court Judge Conal Gibbons' refusal to allow a contribution be made to the poor box after he (pensioner) admitted a speeding offence.
Mr Justice Hogan said the pensioner's lawyers claimed Judge Gibbons had allowed another defendant in another speeding case to make a donation to charity. Judge Gibbons explained to the pensioner's lawyers that he had since become aware of an unspecified High Court authority which precluded him from doing it again. He imposed a €60 fine plus four penalty points.
The pensioner then brought judicial review proceedings in which he asked the High Court to rule whether a District Court judge has any jurisdiction to strike out a case under the Probation of Offenders Act in return for an accused making a donation to the poor box.
Mr Justice Hogan said the 2010 Road Traffic Act (Section 55) specifically barred penalty point offences being dismissed under the Probation Act.
The judge said the use of the poor box is so inveterate that it must now be considered to be part of common law which was adopted in our system by the coming into force of the Constitution in 1937 (under Article 50.1).
However, because the use of the Probation Act in penalty point cases had been specifically disapplied by the 2010 legislation, the District Court's jurisdiction under common law must be taken to have been superseded, he said.
The District Court could not impose an "informal sanction", such as a donation to the poor box, because this would amount to an indirect circumvention of statutory provisions.
The judge also said while there was previous case law in which it was found a donation to the poor box was acceptable in a sexual assault case, the difference here was that the Oireachtas had provided for mandatory sanctions in certain road traffic cases.
No such mandatory penalties were provided in sexual assault cases and therefore the District Court's common law power to accept a donation in lieu of formal conviction (in such cases) "continues in principle to hold full sway", he said.