Published On: Sat, Sep 9th, 2023

Attorney pleads for using English language in the courtroom

PHILIPSBURG — Using the English language more prominently in the courtroom will promote equitable access to justice, attorney Caroline van Hees, the Dean of the Bar Association, pointed out in a speech during the installation of Judge Gerben Drenth.

“I support the use of the English language in the courtroom, because language should not be a barrier that prevents individuals from understanding and participating in legal proceedings,” Van Hees said.

Making court proceedings easier to understand is “crucial for the public trust and accountability in the judiciary,” she added. “Being able to understand what is said during a court hearing enhances transparency and reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings and suspicions of unfairness.”

To emphasize her point, Van Hees addressed the court in English and not, as is custom, in Dutch.

She noted that more frequent use of English requires that judges and attorneys have a good grasp of the language. “It is not always easy to explain complex legal issues on the spot. Attorneys and judges need to be careful that the legal discussion is not lost in translation just to accommodate the effort to speak English in the courtroom. This may lead to misunderstandings.”

Van Hees also used the opportunity to ask attention for a serious concern: the amount of time it takes for the Court of Appeals to deliver its judgments.

“Sometimes litigants have to endure lengthy waits of multiple years prior to receiving a judgment. Most attorneys now advise their clients not to appeal a preliminary injunction judgment, because it is not feasible to obtain a quick result.”

The numbers don’t lie: currently 45 cases in St Maarten are waiting for an appeals-judgment. “Eleven of these cases are more than three years old. The late rendering of judgments has persisted for years and despite promises to do better, the reality for St. Maarten seems to be that no concrete efforts are made to expedite this,” Van Hees said.


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