Pro-bono lawyers St. Maarten continue strike as negotiations break down

PHILIPSBURG--The pro-bono lawyers who have been on strike since May 18 due to non-payment of fees due to them will continue their strike, as talks between the Ministry of Justice and St. Maarten Bar Association Criminal Lawyers Section Chairman Cor Merx broke down last Friday.
The lawyers’ action is moving into its third month.
“The atmosphere was a good, but it looks like there is a financial situation going on with government. What government, however, should understand is that there is a financial situation going on with the lawyers,” stated Merx on Tuesday. He has advised the pro-bono lawyers to continue their strike until government is able to come up with a realistic solution to the current crisis.
Pro-bono lawyers give criminal suspects who cannot afford a lawyer free-of-charge legal assistance during the handling of their cases. The bill is paid by government. The outstanding fees date back to January and up to now the Ministry of Justice has not been responding to the lawyers’ requests for settlement.
Merx added in a recent statement to The Daily Herald that lawyers realise that their strike is causing problems at the Court of First Instance and the Joint Court of Justice, as court hearings have to be postponed until a later date.
“But the pro-bono lawyers have not received any payment for six months already. Seen in this light, our interests have to prevail,” he said.
According to Merx, the continuation of the strike may cause a “crisis” in the appointment of pro-bono lawyers in new cases.
Minister of Justice Cornelius de Weever said during the recent Council of Ministers press briefing that the strike has the full attention of the ministry and remains a priority. De Weever said certain promises had been made and this government is trying to figure out how it can come to a realistic solution to the lawyers’ grievances.

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