Common Court welcomes resident judge Mr. Tamara Tijhuis – Mos calls for coordinator to battle youth problemsPOSTED: 08/20/12 1:12 PM
St. Maarten – A plea for “a specific, fast, simple and balanced procedure for small claims” and a lot of attention for youth criminality were the two highlights of a special session of the Common Court of Justice yesterday afternoon that was called to welcome mr. Tamara Tijhuis as the newest court’s member.
The court sessions was attended by acting Governor Reynold Groeneveldt, parliament President Rodolphe Samuel, members of the Common Court of Justice, staff of the public prosecutor’s office, many attorneys and other invitees. Notably absent was Justice Minister Roland Duncan.
mr. Liesbeth Hoefdraad, the President of the Common Court of Justice introduced Judge Tijhuis. St. Maarten’s new resident judge is 36, born in Almelo with a law degree from the university of Amsterdam. She worked at the court in Amsterdam until 2005, when she started a so-called raio-training to join the judiciary. In 2009 she was appointed as judge to the court in Haarlem. St. Maarten is her second post.
mr. Hoefdraad dwelled on the difference between being right and getting it in her speech. It happens quite often that people win a civil court case and still end up with nothing because the other party is incapable or unwilling to pay. “And this while the creditor has had to make expenditures on court fees, the bailiff and an attorney.”
In other cases injured party don’t even go to court, even though they have a strong case against a party that is perfectly capable to pay. “That happens when the cost of the procedure is higher than the money an injured party could get out of a ruling.”
mr. Hoefdraad said that these situations are getting more and more attention in many countries. “And that is justified. Our sense of justice tells us that defaulting should not pay, also not when it is about small amounts. For the settling of small claims there has to be an adequate option in court. It is desirable to have a specific, fast, simple and balanced procedure for small claims.”
mr. Hoefdraad expressed the wish that the legislation to establish a small claims court will see the light of day in all four countries in the Kingdom. She also noted that there is a new ordinance for attorneys underway.
Chief Prosecutor mr. Hans Mos addressed the audience in his role as acting solicitor-general. He introduced the new prosecutor, 37-year-old mr. Georges van den Eshof, who had a special link with St. Maarten from birth: “He was born on St. Maarten Day, November 11,” Mos said.
The new prosecutor is multilingual: he speaks English, French, Spanish and Russian.
At the same time, the prosecutor’s office stands to lose another prosecutor with the departure of mr. Marleen Overmeer to Bonaire; in July, her colleague mr. Manon Ridderbeks returned to the Netherlands. Mr. Mos announced that his office now has a vacancy for a youth-prosecutor who will be specifically tasked with youth-cases.
And youth, that was the theme of Mos’s address. ”The youth has the future, but the youth in St. Maarten is not exactly thriving. And if that is the case, St. Maarten’s future is not very bright.”
Mos based his position on the St. Maarten crime analysis report that was published in January.
The report contains a lot of observations about the causes of youth criminality, Mos said. “Many children grow up in broken families; when both parents are working there is not enough supervision for children; domestic violence created an unsafe living environment for children and to them this makes violence seem normal; there are not enough after-school activities; there is a lack of standards and values; early school dropout; insufficient schooling; a street culture, gangs, and peer pressure.”
Mos said that his office and the police realized already before the report was published that its conclusions should be the points of departure for their policy plans for the coming years. “The youth plays an important role in those plans. The focus is not exclusively on repression but first and foremost on prevention, influencing of behavior and counseling. The Public Prosecutor’s Office has decided to make youth criminality a priority.”
The Judicial Casus consultation is a platform where all cases of youth criminality are discussed. “We also talk about cases where serious social family problems could become the breeding ground for youth criminality. We make an attempt to prevent that youngsters end up in criminality by intervening at an early stage, and by taking legal civil measures. In case there are punishable actions involved we will choose for the most effective intervention – focused on re-socialization and preventing of repeat offenses.”
Mos said that the new criminal code offers more possibilities for acting against youth delinquency. But that is not all: “There is a need for a national approach, supported and prioritized by all departments and spearheaded by a national coordinator. Only with a national, integral approach of the youth issue in all its aspects St. Maarten will be able to prevent the potential loss of a whole generation.”
Mos pointed out that his office operates at the back end of the youth issue. “Investments in youth policy must primarily focus on the front end, on preventing criminality and other youth problems. Think about a high priority for education, for after-school care, activities for the youth in the districts, sports facilities. But think also about the responsibility of parents, about teaching standards and values, respect. Where necessary parents must get help with the upbringing of their children.”
Another problem is that there are not enough possibilities to lock up youngsters who did not do their community service. That has given the judiciary the image of a toothless tiger, and the prosecutor’s office is bent on changing that.
“Not too long ago the prosecutor’s office arrested a youngster who deliberately had not done his community service and to let him serve his prison sentence. It was the first such arrest in a very long time and it happened with the approval of the judge. His reaction was: what are you doing? You never did that before.”
Mos said that his office will make an effort to surprise more youngsters this way, but added that this is only possible if there are sufficient cells to execute the sentences.
The cell shortage has forced the prosecutor’s office to consider alternatives like community service, study-sentences and electronic supervision. The prosecutor’s office recently introduced a new system for electronic surveillance to Justice Minister Duncan.
Mos said that “classic community service” is an adequate tool. There is only one problem: “There are not enough community service projects with supervision. I call therefore on all non-profit organizations with a general public goal that have work that serves a public interest, and that are capable to supervise this work, to register this with the Rehabilitation Bureau, the Court of Guardianship or the Public Prosecutor’s Office.”
Judge Tijhuis had the last word – an expression many defendants in her courtroom are familiar with. “The more I experience St. Maarten, the more things I discover,” she said in a brief thank you address. “I am looking forward to learning a lot about St. Maarten and to contribute to this community.”