ATTORNEYS are complaining that they are being charged in US dollars when using their credit cards to pay annual subscription fees and contributions to the compensation fund via the Judiciary’s CourtPay system.
In an advisory to its members on Tuesday, the Law Association said some members had notified it of the issue.
“It would appear that when members use a credit card to facilitate payment of fees, these fees are charged in US dollars.”
The association said it was uncertain whether the US-dollar charge was equivalent to the TT value of the payment.
“Further, it would mean the monthly US limit of the member at their bank would be affected based on these payments,” the advisory said.
Last week, a commercial bank told customers it was halving the maximum US-dollar spending limit per billing cycle on credit cards. The US-dollar credit-card limit was reduced from US$10,000 to US$5,000 per cycle.
The association said the issue was raised with the Judiciary in July at a bench-bar meeting.
It also said the council wrote to the Registrar of the Supreme Court as a follow-up for an assurance that the registry was not accepting fees or payments in US dollars.
“In the interim, and while we await a response from the Judiciary on this matter, it is suggested that members refrain from using their credit cards to make payments while this issue is being resolved.”
VOUCHERS OR PAY OVER THE COUNTER
Attorneys were advised to use the voucher payment system or go to the accounts department at the Judiciary to transact over-the-counter payments for annual subscription fees and contributions to the fund.
On Tuesday, the Judiciary was asked to clarify whether attorneys were being charged in US dollars when using their credit cards on the CourtPay system and whether, as some attorneys said, payments were being routed out of TT.
There was no response to Newsday’s questions up to press time on Thursday.
Subscription fees and contributions to the fund vary from $7,200 total for a senior counsel to $700 for an attorney with less than four years' call.
Under the Legal Profession Act, the registrar is obligated to receive all annual subscription fees and contributions to the compensation fund. The act says annual subscription fees cover a 12-month period starting October 1 each year.
CourtPay was launched in September 2019.
In response to concerns about the new electronic payment system, the Judiciary said it owned the CourtPay software. It also said it contracted with WiPay (Trinidad and Tobago) and Republic Bank after a full tendering process.
“The contracts with WiPay are to develop the CourtPay software and to provide an end-to-end software solution which they are obliged to maintain as part of our contract.”
A 2019 statement said the act did not set out the mode by which payments were to be collected and this process “has always been within the registrar’s purview.”
“While the registrar has always maintained a collaborative approach with LATT, there is no requirement for the consent of LATT with respect to the manner in which fees and contributions are collected.
“When collected, they are to be handed over to the Law Association which must make provision to receive same. Throughout the years, the resources available to the Judiciary have always dictated the manner of collection of funds and this instant matter is no different.
“The Judiciary is an independent arm of the State and will continue to manage its resources in the best interest of all its stakeholders, which includes the members of the LATT,” the statement said.
WiPay moved its headquarters to Jamaica in 2020.
Over the weekend, Finance Minister Colm Imbert admitted TT’s foreign exchange availability had been affected by an increase in demand.
He said the sale of foreign exchange to the public for the first eight months of 2023 was 26.8 per cent higher than in 2021 and 4.3 per cent higher for the same period in 2019.
“The issue, therefore, is not simply the availability of foreign exchange in 2023, compared to previous years, but rather, it also is the demand.”
He said there were several reasons for the increased demand, and the growth in the economy from 2022 was driving an increase in demand for forex by businesses wanting to expand options, and import equipment, raw materials and finished products.
He also said there has been an explosion in online shopping, which was driving up the use of US dollar-denominated credit cards.
On Wednesday, the minister said credit-card usage had increased by 37 per cent over the last four years. In a post on the X app (formerly Twitter), Imbert said, “The use of credit cards for USD (US dollar) overseas purchases has increased from US$1.38b (billion) in 2019 and 2021 to US$1.8b in 2022 and is on track to reach US$2b in 2023, a 45 per cent increase in just two years.
“These are the true facts…Credit card usage has increased by US$500m (million) per year since 2019.”