Published On: Fri, Mar 20th, 2020

Treatment of criminal cases behind closed doors

PHILIPSBURG — The handling of a large number of lawsuits has been postponed due to COVID-19. Criminal cases that will continue in the coming week are no longer public. “The treatment takes place behind closed doors, without an audience,” said criminal judge Jorgen Snitker.

Snitker is one of five judges on St. Maarten. The Court of First Instance will hear criminal cases next Wednesday. The judge explains that only those cases where a possible sentence can be executed are being handled. If the measures surrounding COVID-19 prevent this, the case will be postponed.

The 37 prisoners in Point Blanche who brought summary proceedings against the Country of St. Maarten for human rights violations, see their hopes for a rapid improvement in their conditions of detention faded. The hearing was scheduled to take place today, but has been postponed indefinitely. “In case of a verdict in favor of the prisoners, they should be transferred to other prisons in the Kingdom. That is currently impossible,” says Snitker.

Five detainees are said to be present in the courtroom during the hearing of the summary proceedings. The Court does not consider this safe in the context of the developments surrounding COVID-19. “Allowing the hearing to proceed leads to too much interpersonal contact between employees, police, lawyers and plaintiffs, which is not advisable under the current circumstances,” according to a statement by the Court.

Due to the drastic limitation of air traffic between the islands, it is not possible for lawyers from Curaçao to assist clients in St. Maarten. And in some cases the judge cannot give a decision on St. Maarten. Theo Heyliger, who is assisted in the Larimar case by attorney Eldon “Peppi” Sulvaran of the Sulvaran & Peterson office in Curaçao, may not be able to attend the judgment of the judge in Curaçao on April 24.

Several times a year, the Court on St. Maarten receives assistance from two judges from Curaçao, says Judge Snitker. “This mainly concerns tax cases. These also need to be postponed.”

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Press release Prosecutor’s Office: Criminal court cases postponed until further notice