Monday 21 September, 2020

Barbados amends two laws to make e-filing of court documents a go



Barbados is waving 'Goodbye' to the days of licking stamps and affixing them to court documents in order to file them.

Pleased as punch to bring both the Stamp Duty Amendment and the Registration of Judgements Amendment today in the House, Attorney General Dale Marshall said that with these two "simple" changes, the local judiciary system is one step closer to modernisation.

He said that these amendments are in keeping with the Barbados Labour Party's drive to establish "a regime for the electronic filing of court documents."

Using the affidavit process as an example, he showed how efficient the e-filing process will be for most paper-based letters and claims.

He said the average Barbadian who has had any dealings would be aware of the procedure involving affidavits, "You go to your lawyer get the affidavit prepared, the legal clerk will then walk with you over to the Registry and you wait at the Registry until a Legal Assistant becomes available and then they put a Bible in your hand and you take the oath and you sign that document and then Sir, you go on your way but then the document goes back to the particular lawyer's office until time for filing, and that requires often another trek to the Registry to present the actual physical document for filing."

He said that in this modern era, in other jurisdictions, documents are filed electronically. So it is not like Barbados is working to reinvent the wheel.

For the Caribbean Court of Justice (CCJ) no one goes through the archaic and long-winded process, instead, all of the filing of the court documents is done online. 

Marshall said that there is no reason why we should be reluctant to embrace electronic filing.

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According to him, the BLP-administration already started making headway in modernising the administration of justice with amendments to the Evidence Act last year allowing persons "to take oaths in lawyers' offices", therefore, he said that today's move covers the next step - the step of filing the documents.

Acknowledging that the platform for the e-filing is "practically complete," he admitted but until now, "upon filing some documents you are required to pay stamp duty and in the normal course of things", you would need to get a claim form and affix a physical stamp onto that form.

He said this was the one hiccup.

"Filing requires a revenue stamp, but it becomes impractical to file online" while maintaining attaching stamps before submission. "This amendment now permits the stamp duty to be affixed to the document electronically. That is all it does." He says it allows the Registry to do such.

However, this process will not be rid of the stamp duty, as Marshall said that the Revenue Authority may be "disinclined to give up" another revenue stream.

Today's amendment facilitates "the legal system of Barbados moving swiftly towards a system of electronic filing," reiterated the AG.

Noting that it ultimately reduces the cost of transactions, increases efficiencies, minimises the time legal clerks stand in line, and helps the processes move speedily, the Attorney General also moved the amendment for the Registration of Judgements Act.

He said that the two Acts are intertwined, "when a person gets a judgement you fill out a form [and] pay the filing fee." It is a paper-based process. He said it does not facilitate searching to see if there are judgements against a person. Therefore, he also read the Bill to amend the Registration of Judgements Act.  

In the day of COVID-19 and having an e-Cabinet, he argued that this is the direction that "the technology has taken us in", and it makes no sense letting timidity stop the progression.

Debating this issue in the time of COVID-19, the last thing Marshall said that we want right now is people trekking over to the Registry with or without a face mask. Marshall said that if the filing can be done electronically, and persons pay using EZ-Pay, the process would now be "seamless" and safer.

And he urged that the reality is, this is "happening at a time when our system needs it most."

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