Rethink small claims court, Bar Association advises

POSTED: 02/21/12 12:21 PM

St. Maarten – Parliament ought to take another look at amendments to the civil code aimed at establishing a small claims court, Bar Association dean mr. Remco Stomp told members of the Central Committee of parliament yesterday afternoon.
mr. Stomp said that the initiative in itself to make legal help for financial disputes under 10,000 guilders (about $5, 500) accessible and affordable for low-income consumers is good, but that there remain questions parliamentarians ought to consider.
“We already have an article in the law – the court order to pay – to settle small claims,” he said.
Under the proposed amendment, consumers only have to pay 50 guilders ($27.75) to file a complaint in the small claims court. But mr. Stomp pointed out that businesses also have access to this court, be it against a slightly higher fee of 100 guilders (around $55).
“Companies like Island Finance and Caribbean Cash have a lot of small claims,” he warned. “The court could be flooded with these claims. I don’t think this is a good format for St. Maarten.”

mr. Stomp also noted that, to keep the cost down, summonses for the small claims court would be served via registered mail. Though this is obviously cheaper than sending a bailiff, Mr. Stomp said that a system with a bailiff would work better.
“We don’t have a good working mail-system,” he said, adding later that this is not a reproach to the local postal services, but that a registered mail-system would not work well anywhere.
And the dean noted a further complication that demands consideration: “I foresee a lot of appeals against small claims court rulings. That adds again to the workload for the people at the court house.”
mr. Stomp’s advice to parliament was brief and clear: “Don’t rush this legislation. Have another look at it.”
The Bar Association was also asked for advice on changes to the 1931 bankruptcy legislation. “This is a framework to streamline existing legislation. The only thing new is article 39 about the so-called trust escape route,” mr. Stomp said.
That article is designed to protect the interests of creditors. Under this article a trustee can look back 40 days in the books of a company that filed for bankruptcy to check whether assets have been illegally put out of reach of the trustee. mr. Stomp said that a time frame of 100 days or even a year would be better.

MPs Leroy de Weever, Johan Leonard and Louie Laveist all asked about options to protect the interests of employees in a company that files for bankruptcy. Civil law attorney Hendrich Seferina said that the Netherlands has a salary-guarantee regulation, whereby the Center for Work and Income pays salaries to employees of bankrupted companies even for some time after the bankruptcy.
“You could think about introducing that in St. Maarten. Companies do not file for bankruptcy to get rid of their employees,” he suggested.
The Chamber of commerce was invited to attend the meeting to comment on the bankruptcy legislation, but President Arthur Bute and vice president Ludwig Ouenniche said that this does not affect in any way the activities or the tasks of the Chamber. Answering questions from MP Jules James, Bute said that in the past two years 84 companies had filed for bankruptcy

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