Charities are expected to miss out on millions of dollars after the Supreme Court said the state's sentencing laws did not allow for payments to be made to charitable funds, in place of fines.
The Melbourne City Council appealed against a magistrate's decision to allow a man, who pleaded guilty to breaching the Food Act, to make a donation to St Vincent De Paul, instead of paying a council fine.
Justice John Dixon today upheld the council's appeal.
Juanita Pope of the Public Interest Law Clearing House (PILCH) says the decision ends a tradition of the court fund supporting community organisations.
"As a result of the decision, charities won't have the benefit of these payments and that will mean less funds for them to do the important work that they do in out community," she said.
She says it is a significant loss for the charities.
"The appeal means the sentencing options that were previously available to courts, will no longer be available," she said.
"It's difficult to know how many charities are going to be affected," she said.
The Supreme Court ruled changes to the law more than a decade ago effectively ended the power of the courts to order payments to charities as punishment for minor offences.
The Victorian Council of Social Services it is bitterly disappointed by the court's ruling.
"[It's] a practice that has existed for more than 100 years," acting chief executive officer, Caroline Atkins said.
"Magistrates could make awards where fines were paid to a poor box and that money was distributed to organisations most vulnerable in our community.
"Poor box orders amounted to over 3,500 orders each year which delivers millions of dollars to organisations.
"In his judgement Justice Dixon noted the outcome he felt he had to arrive, could have been an unintended consequences of sentencing reforms in the 1990's."