On September 21, 2016 an article appeared in the media pertaining the strike by the pro-bono lawyers on St. Maarten. The pro-bono lawyers are on strike because neither the Minister of Justice nor the Minister of Finance wanted to act on the many calls for help with regards to the fees for pro-bono lawyers that haven’t been increased since 1993. Pro-bono lawyers offer legal assistance to criminal suspects who can’t afford a lawyer on their own. According to international laws, in a democratic system everyone has the right to get the assistance of a “Government lawyer” once he is charged in the criminal procedure (European Treaty of the Human Rights).
This situation is simply not acceptable. The word is that small crime offenders are already being sent home, because of pro-bono lawyers not providing legal assistance. Besides that, there is a realistic chance that cases will be thrown out by judges, because of the accused not having had the opportunity to receive legal assistance. All of this, because the current Minister of Justice is not able to meet the rightful demands of the pro-bono lawyers.
This unfortunate news comes on top of the many reports about escaped prisoners, contraband in prison, an outdated prison because of prison expansion being blocked, lack of prison guards, lack of training of prison guards, violence and even a deadly shooting in prison, Director of Immigration successfully taking Government to court, ongoing killings in our community, to name a few. It seems an endless list with the latest addition being the chance of alleged criminals being sent home and criminal cases being thrown out of court. We can only conclude that the safety of our society at large is in danger.
Many of these unfortunate situations have a root-cause in common: Finance. The National Alliance led Government has been boasting about balancing a budget, but as time passes by it is becoming clearer every day that the ‘balanced budget’ is a big disaster. Not only has the projected income not been realized (there is a huge deficit over the first two quarters), but there is also irresponsible and inefficient spending. It was proudly stated that 33 million guilders was just ‘sitting’ on a bank account, not being used by the UPP, and that the NA led Government spent this money on pet projects.
The much needed prison expansion has been halted, no new prison guards have been hired, no training of prison guards took place, assistance by colleagues from Curacao was denied because there is no money for their housing and allowance, assistance by VKS was denied because there is no money for any sort of remuneration, the COLA for workers in the Ministry of Justice cannot be paid, there is no money to meet the pro bono lawyers in the middle towards their demands and so many more issues. The Ministry of Justice is in shambles, but who is really to blame?