Prosecutor’s Office concerned about ongoing lawyers’ strike

PHILIPSBURG--Chief Prosecutor Jeroen Steenbrink has sent a letter to Minister of Justice Cornelius de Weever in which he expressed the Prosecutor’s Office’s concern about the ongoing strike of pro-bono lawyers and the “enormous impact” this has on criminal justice.
The pro-bono lawyers, who provide legal assistance to crime suspects who cannot afford their own lawyer, have been on strike since May 18. They demand payment of fees, which they have not received since January.
In the letter, of which only a number of paragraphs were made available to the media, the Prosecutor’s Office said it did not want to interfere with the discussion about the nature of the conflict between the striking lawyers and the minister. The overall strike of criminal law lawyers means, however, that effective criminal justice cannot currently take place in many criminal cases, it was stated. Therefore, the Chief Prosecutor is hopeful that parties will come to a solution soon.
Talks between the Ministry of Justice and St. Maarten Bar Association Criminal Lawyers Section Chairman Cor Merx broke down last Friday as the lawyers’ action is moving into its third month.
Government pays the bill of pro-bono lawyers, who provide free-of-charge legal assistance to criminal suspects who cannot afford a lawyer during the handling of their cases.
“Under the law, every citizen has the right to submit his dispute to an independent judge. This applies in general, but applies even more if a citizen is deprived of his personal freedom. Little is so radical as deprivation of your personal liberty, for whatever reason. The citizen must, in that case, be assured of legal assistance at the earliest possible stage. The right to legal assistance enables the citizen to defend his (fundamental) rights in an effective manner in Court. This legal assistance may not be taken away from him, for whatever reason,” the Chief Prosecutor stated in his letter to the Minister of Justice.
“At present, the appeal to fundamental rights is being frustrated by Country St. Maarten,” Steenbrink stated. As a result, court hearings have to be postponed, leaving both suspects and victims in uncertainty about what is going to happen with their cases. “In short, a completely undesirable and unlawful situation,” the Chief Prosecutor said.
Minister De Weever has not yet responded to the letter, Prosecutor’s Office spokesman Norman Serphos said Thursday.

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