Bar Association tells MPs not to rush into small claims court law

PHILIPSBURG--Dean of the Bar Association Remco Stomp told Members of Parliament (MPs) not to rush into adopting changes to the Code of Civil Procedure that would establish a "small claims court" for cases under NAf. 10,000 until the changes have been dissected more closely.

The law changes will be further looked into by MPs in the coming weeks.

Stomp said in Monday's Central Committee hearing on the change to the Civil Procedure and the Bankruptcy Law (1931) that while the goal of this new legislation is to make it easier and cheaper for people to file claims, it would actually complicate matters.

The law change would allow individuals to file a claim of up to NAf. 10,000 for a court fee of NAf. 50. The individual would also be allowed to present his or her own case without the need of a lawyer. A company can also file a claim in small claims court for a court fee of NAf. 100.

The complications come with the removal of the need for a marshal to deliver summonses for defendants to appear in court. A summons, Stomp explained, would be sent by registered mail, but "we don't have a proper mailing system."

MP George Pantophlet queried Stomp's comments about the mailing system during the hearing. Stomp explained that people not registering their correct addresses and the time it takes for snail mail to be delivered, makes the use of a marshal in court matters more effective.

Pantophlet also questioned if many "small claims" cases had been filed with the court at present. Stomp said there were "very few cases."

The proposed system is further complicated in that a verdict rendered against an individual or company in small claims court can be appealed, and a marshal could be used at that time.

There is also concern that the filing of small claims would "clog up our system." Stomp gave the example of companies such as Caribbean Cash and Island Finance filing small claims against their loan defaulters.

The law amendment in its current format "is not good for St. Maarten." While the Bar Association was not denouncing the law and is "very much for efficiency," Stomp said, "I warn Parliament not to rush this legislation."

The law change would also introduce the possibility of mediation via a consumer protection entity or foundation. The country is yet to establish a consumer protection agency and without this in place, Stomp said the law would be missing a vital piece.

St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce and Industry Vice President Ludwig Ouenniche, who had been pushing for the set up of a consumer protection agency, said he was happy to learn that there was more foundation in the law for the agency. Ouenniche was also at the hearing to talk about the Bankruptcy Law changes.

(The Daily Herald)

21 February 2012

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