Chief Prosecutor Hans Mos: “It’s important to know what is going around here”

POSTED: 05/3/12 5:04 PM

St. Maarten – By Donellis Browne – The fact that the University of St. Martin is launching a law program this fall is hailed by Chief Prosecutor Hans Mos as the means to address an often-repeated question: Why are there no local public prosecutors?

The sort of revolving door that exists now in the service is not desired by the office or the country but in a land where no local has, as yet, taken up the mantle to work in this key institution there is little choice than to continue importing prosecutors from the Netherlands. That is done with the utmost care under the leadership of Attorney General Dick Piar with some key requests from the local office in hand.

“We don’t want any rookies here. We’re working in a complex situation. If we have to train and acclimatize someone it makes things more difficult. We want five to six years of experience, people with a stable family life. Younger people can become a liability for themselves and the office. We encourage them to come with young children. It’s not an easy task to draft these kinds of people and that is why the Attorney General is there.”

While the university program is supported there’s also the clear view that it won’t immediately lead to an end to the in and outflow of Dutch prosecutors. Under the full and regular training course it will take someone 10 years of study before they can become qualified. Some of the local defense attorneys can make the transition in a shorter period, but they’d have to make the choice. None have thus far.

“I would love to have a homegrown prosecutor that suits the job, but the in and outflow will continue to be an issue until someone decides to contribute in that way. I think it’s important to know what is going around here.”

The issue of finding lawyers is something that the whole government apparatus is dealing with at the moment. Though the revolving door agreement that the prosecutor’s office is helping to keep them staffed it still creates a number of issues.  What is becoming even more an issue these days is finding people who fit the desired criteria that are willing to move their families.

“It’s getting tougher to find people each year. People know it’s for three years. There’s also the partner who has his or her own job and if they have to give up their career then it becomes a stiff financial burden. Then there are the children and the change. I think it’s a privilege to come and work here, but it’s also an adventure.”

It is also becoming an issue to get people to stay here. The agreement that allows prosecutors to come from the Netherlands also allows them to transfer to working for the government, but no prosecutor who worked in St. Maarten has ever done so for a multitude of reasons.

“There is a concern about the quality of education at especially the secondary schools and students being able to fit back into the Dutch education system because there’s not a lot of focus on Dutch and not a lot of focus on Dutch history. There is also not a lot of the special guidance here that is present in the Netherlands. That’s how people feel. There’s also a financial aspect. It’s very difficult to cash in your pension and it’s not very attractive when people do. It’s quite a decision to take. So the flow will continue; you grow them at home or find them in the region. That is why the law program at the University of St. Martin is a great initiative.”

Allowing Dutch prosecutors to stay though is also not considered the best thing.  At present they stay for three years. Earlier they stayed for five years but “incidents in the past have led to an abbreviated period.” No details of the incidents were on offer even when asked about the Merx scandal.

“You won’t hear that from me.”

Growth

As challenged as he may be in finding locals and now in importing new prosecutors Mos plans to continue to expand the Public Prosecutor’s Office. At the moment there are 13.5 full time staffers.  The three man group led by Attorney General Dick Piar who wrote the organizational and staffing plan for the office ahead of the dismantling of the Netherlands Antilles on October 10, 2010 have called for an office with 19.5 full time staffers. The half time staffer in St. Maarten also works for Saba and St. Eustatius. At the absolute top of the scale there should be 20.5 staffers.

That vision of 19.5 people is something Mos believes should be done gradually and guided by two questions: Where are the people and where is the work? The question about where is the work has to do with the growth in the police force and its capacity to deliver cases that the prosecutors will take to court. Though the police have added more officers recently – mostly from the Bavpol program – it hasn’t led to a surge in cases. Yes more fines are being given out for traffic offenses, but there haven’t been the type of investigations that will lead to more work for the Public Prosecutor’s office.

“We are waiting not only for the police, but also for the Ministry of Health that has to deal with sanitation offences and the control on pharmaceuticals, the ministry of Vromi and the police. The problem with the police is that, for example, the Landsrecherche (National Detectives) needed to start from scratch. And the quartermaster and now head of that department Ademar Doran took some of the police’s best detectives with him alongside some recruits from the Netherlands. The police also still need a special investigation unit. Adding 21 officers from the Netherlands to the force has given some balance. Even though people see more blue in the street that’s a lot of guys at the bottom level to do surveillance and visibility, but they are not detectives.”

The growth of the Public Prosecutor’s Office is not just focused on investigating and trying cases though. There’s also going to be attention in the coming year for the execution of rulings. This has not been done optimally to date because the office had no bailiff. That is about to change and Mos expects that more fines will be collected because of this. Even though there’s 2 million guilders on the road at the moment from fines issued in the last four years, one should not think that people are getting off from paying their fines. The vast majority of rulings are executed, but Mos wants to see improvement.

“A lot of people do pay, but some don’t and we will be going after them.”

Anyone who does not pay his or her fine should understand that they will eventually be caught and that they will either be made to pay the fine or they will be taken to jail for the number of days equivalent to the fine. This stricter policy of enforcing will also apply to people who are not completing their community service. The police and prosecutor have already worked together to pick up a number of young men who have not completed their community service. The fact that these people are being arrested has shocked them and started to create a perception that no one is able to get away with a crime or with not doing their punishment.

“We’re looking to change the mentality that you can get away with things.”

But the challenge of growth in the police and in successful prosecution leads to greater challenges for implementation of verdicts. The biggest part of the problem is prison space.

“Prison space is also an issue for us, because we need a place to put people once they are convicted. We need the closure of follow-up/implementation or the chain becomes not credible. In some cases we can, but in some we can’t and that’s a concern for us.”

Acquittal requests

“We don’t lose or win cases. That is an American way of thinking.” That one frank statement is what anyone will get from Mos at the start of his explanation about why public prosecutors sometimes ask a judge to acquit someone.

“If we bring a case to court and ask for conviction it is a disappointment when people are acquitted. If we think the judge is wrong, we appeal. Not many cases end in acquittal, but those that do happen because we ask for them.”

Mos is particularly focused on ensuring that cases that surround vices – sexual abuse for example – are brought to court so that the defendant can publicly be cleared.

“Vice things are sensitive and difficult to prove. If we come to the conclusion after the investigation that we can’t prove it, we will still take it to court because that person is entitled to a public acquittal. I don’t see it as a loss, I see that as the right of suspect.”

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