By Fergus Shiel Law Reporter July 8 2002
A historic court tradition is raising millions of dollars for Victoria's needy.
The Victorian Magistrates Court Fund, once known as the court poor box, last year raised more than $2 million for welfare organisations and people in distress.
Figures released by the court show that contributions rose to $2,184,066 in 2001, up from $1,978,323 the year before.
The tradition of ordering defendants to make contributions to the court poor box originated in England. Magistrates decided to temper justice with mercy by ordering defendants to pay into the box and avoid a conviction.
In 1973, the court fund raised $121,095. Ten years later, contributions had grown to $1,393,353.
Until recently, court fund money was directly distributed by court staff to those requiring emergency assistance.
Typically, it was given to deserted wives and children during the initial stages of maintenance proceedings. Or it might be given to those who had no money for a tram or taxi to get home after a court appearance.
In a small number of cases, it was given to people who sought direct assistance from the Magistrates Court.
In recent years, the fund has been used to directly assist hard-pressed welfare organisations, including the Salvation Army and the Smith Family.
Last year, $1,827,725 was distributed to agencies from the court fund and $186,536 was paid to applicants by court registrars. Payments to welfare agencies must not go towards administrative costs.
All payments out of the fund are authorised by a magistrate and subject to audit by the State Government.