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The Red House.

Proposed law to allow payments to be made to the court electronically – including on violation of COVID health protocols and mask-wearing – will be debated in the Senate today and in the House of Representatives tomorrow.

And Opposition UNC members will attend the debates, UNC deputy leader David Lee said yesterday.

The Electronic Payments (Into and Out of) Court bill will be debated in the Senate first this afternoon. It provides for deduction of bank charges, credit card charges, debit card charges, chargeback and administrative and other fees from the Custodial Bank Account, by agreement between the Judiciary and a financial intermediary. It requires a simple majority vote to be passed.

Attorney General Faris Al-Rawi said the bill allows for all payments on fines regarding penalties to be made to the court electronically online.

This will include fines for traffic tickets and other matters plus violation of COVID Health protocols. The latter aspect also covers paying fines for non-wearing of masks.

In January, it was reported that five months after the mask law was implemented, no system was in place to facilitate payment of the $1,000 penalty for failing to wear a face mask in public. Police Commissioner Gary Griffith confirmed then that people were unable to pay the fines. He said while the police issued tickets, the inability to pay the fines involved the criminal justice system. In January, payments were deferred to March.

Between September 2020 and January 2021, police issued 4,486 tickets to people for failing to wear face masks. Updates showed that between September 2020 and March, 7,140 Health tickets were issued to members of the public – but there was still no payment system in place up to March. However, software for the system was being implemented.

Al-Rawi yesterday said the bill is a continuation of the digitisation of the economy and improvements to do business, including payments for various services at TTPost. He said the bill is also tied in with eliminating the backlog in motor vehicle and road traffic cases, as Government had extended the timeframe for the 50 per cent discount offered on tickets.

After today’s Senate debate, the bill will be debated in the Lower House tomorrow.

Last Friday, when the Opposition boycotted that day’s sitting, Government proceeded to pass the Anti-Gang Bill and adjourned the House to a date to be fixed. But an agenda for a House sitting tomorrow was subsequently issued.

The Opposition “blanked” last week’s House sitting, citing concerns about possible COVID contagion in Parliament since Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley had tested positive for COVID last week. The UNC noted some PNM MPs had been around him. But Rowley subsequently said he had no symptoms on March 26 and 27, his flu-like symptoms first appeared on the night of April 5 and he was tested and confirmed positive on the morning of April 6. He said the standard protocol is that once symptoms are observed, authorities will check contacts two to three days prior – that meant that his contacts in Parliament on March 26 and at a press conference the next day don’t qualify under protocols for tracing.

Yesterday UNC’s Lee said UNC members will attend tomorrow’s House sitting since the 14 days that people should quarantine (regarding the virus) have passed. He also expected UNC Senators to be in the Senate today.