Court-ordered cash bail payments can now be paid by e-transfer in Manitoba.
The move to accept electronic payments comes after the court faced criticism for continuing to require in-person payments at courthouses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a notice posted on its website this week, Manitoba Justice stated "effective June 25, 2020, the Courts Division began accepting payments for bail by Interac e-transfer. This will allow an accused person or their sureties to make a payment without having to travel to their nearest court centre."
On June 8, the Free Press reported on the case of a 28-year-old Norway House man who, despite a judge's decision he could be released on bail, spent a week in a Winnipeg jail among inmates who were deemed to be showing symptoms of the virus.
He was required to pay a $750 cash deposit in order to be released on bail, but his partner couldn't travel out of her northern Manitoba community to the nearest courthouse in Thompson — about 300 kilometres away — to pay the cash.
At the time, the man's defence lawyer, Rohit Gupta, described the situation as "unacceptable," and said the court shouldn’t order cash bail if there is no accessible option for people in remote communities to pay it.
A court spokeswoman deferred questions about the e-transfers to Manitoba Justice. No one from the department responded to Free Press inquiries Tuesday.
It's unclear whether Manitoba courts are considering accepting e-transfers for other types of payments. No changes have been announced for Manitobans who have to go to court in person to sign on as sureties on behalf of an accused person being released on bail.
Accepting e-transfers is another step toward modernizing the courts that's being welcomed by the Criminal Defence Lawyers Association of Manitoba, said president Gerri Wiebe.
It's a change, she said, that will have the most effect in remote communities and on circuit court locations.
"Anything that makes it easier for people to fulfil the requirements for their release, we say is a good thing; anything that minimizes in-person traffic at courthouse locations during a pandemic is going to be a very good thing."
Wiebe said though the majority of bails in Manitoba don't require a cash deposit, for those that do, accepting e-transfers will shorten the amount of time spent waiting behind bars for someone whom the court has deemed releasable.
Your support has enabled us to provide free access to stories about COVID-19 because we believe everyone deserves trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
Our readership has contributed additional funding to give Free Press online subscriptions to those that can’t afford one in these extraordinary times — giving new readers the opportunity to see beyond the headlines and connect with other stories about their community.
To those who have made donations, thank you.
To those able to give and share our journalism with others, please Pay it Forward.
The Free Press has shared COVID-19 stories free of charge because we believe everyone deserves access to trusted and critical information during the pandemic.
While we stand by this decision, it has undoubtedly affected our bottom line.
After nearly 150 years of reporting on our city, we don’t want to stop any time soon. With your support, we’ll be able to forge ahead with our journalistic mission.
If you believe in an independent, transparent, and democratic press, please consider subscribing today.
We understand that some readers cannot afford a subscription during these difficult times and invite them to apply for a free digital subscription through our Pay it Forward program.
Updated on Wednesday, July 1, 2020 at 3:58 PM CDT: Adds comment from Criminal Defence Lawyers Association of Manitoba