CHIEF Justice Ivor Archie has defended the Judiciary’s CourtPay system, which was implemented for making and receiving electronic maintenance payments.
In his address at the opening of the 2018/2019 law term on Monday, Archie hit back at detractors of the system, saying he was “astounded by the comments.”
“I see doubles vendors using Linx. How could it, the setting up of Judiciary accounts for fines and fees we impose, be contrary to the separation of powers.
“The Judiciary has always been a revenue collecting centre and a very responsible one at that. It has to be policied and enforced. We seize property and conduct auctions, so please, before you tell us how to run the place, it might be helpful to educate yourself.”
In July, the Law Association (LATT) raised concerns about the legality of the collection of non-refundable “transaction fees” by the Judiciary for its CourtPay system, in the absence of legislation to allow it.
The concern was raised by the association’s president Douglas Mendes, SC, in a letter to Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi, calling on him to allow the association to comment on the Payments into Court Bill.
The bill seeks to make provision for payments to be made electronically into a custodial bank account of the Judiciary, and to provide for the collection of any convenience fee, transaction fee or any other fee. It was introduced in the Lower House on Monday, and debate was adjourned to next Wednesday.
In his address, Archie said since the CourtPay service was introduced in April, 320 people volunteered to use it, and there have been 925 transactions.
He said users of the system were the only ones who were able to access maintenance payments after some courts across the country closed because of last month’s 6.9 magnitude earthquake.
“After the recent earthquake, the only persons able to receive maintenance were those who were already registered.”
He said the Judiciary was moving towards removing the need to have cash at all court locations using the CourtPay system, which cost under $100,000 to set up.
Archie also said when the new traffic laws are proclaimed, motorists receiving tickets in the mail will also be able to pay their fines online.
Eventually, people ordered to pay fines, and lawyers making payments for practising fees and filing fees will be do so electronically, once there is the legislation to support it.
“One of the exciting challenges of managing reform in times of financial stringency is that we are being forced to become more and more efficient.
“It does not have to cost a lot of money. We are determined to leverage available technology to improve efficiency and reduce costs.
Archie said there was nothing illegal about the small user fee imposed on users, as it was comparable to that paid by anyone using Linx or other comparable systems.
Mendes, speaking after the ceremonial opening, said the LATT was not opposed to the system, but had merely made suggestions on how to improve it.
“For example, one of the suggestions we made was in-stead of putting all the money the Judiciary collects into one account, we should put it into separate accounts so there isn’t any intermingling of funds,” Mendes said.
He also suggested that fines should not be paid into an account in the Judiciary’s name.
“The point is if a judge fines someone for the commission of an offence and then the money ends up in an account in the Judiciary’s name, it could potentially give the impression that the Judiciary has an interest in the process,” Mendes said.