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Published On: Fri, Dec 3rd, 2021

Twelve police officers win victory against ministry

~ Police officers score decisive victory against justice ministry ~

UPDATED version of the previously published article online at:
Police officer scores decisive victory against justice ministry

PHILIPSBURG — Twelve police officers with more than ten years of service to their names scored a decisive victory against the Ministry of Justice after a long battle about their promotion, first to police officer and then to sergeant. The court that handles civil servants affairs ordered the ministry to take a decision within four weeks about the promotion. For non-compliance it imposed a penalty of 400 guilders ($223) per day with a maximum of 30,000 guilders ($16,760).

The plaintiffs, represented in court by attorney Cor Merx, entered the service of the justice ministry on July 25, 2011, as Bavpol-trainees. On June 15, 2016, they were promoted by national decree to the function basic police care, retroactively per February 1 of that year. On May 8, 2017, the court voided this national decree.

Almost three years later, on February 11, 2020, the former minister of justice offered the officers a settlement: promotion per February 1, 2013, to police officer and promotion to sergeant per February 1, 2016.

But the settlement did not result in any action. On August 28, 2020 the plaintiffs wrote a letter to the ministry, asking it to abide by the settlement. The minister of justice did not take a decision and therefore the plaintiffs took his case to court.

On May 10, 2021 the court declared the plaintiffs’ appeal founded and ordered the ministry to take a decision within four weeks.

The ministry issued a decree after this decision that is dated May 3, 2021, in the court ruling – a week before the court ruling. This date cannot be correct, because it must obviously have been issued after the ruling.

Anyway, the decree, officially dated May 3, 2021, added an article to the national decree of June 15, 2016. It states (only) that the national decree takes effect retroactively to February 1, 2013.

The plaintiffs objected, because this decree did not abide by the settlement agreement of February 11, 2020, that regulated their retroactive promotions.

During the court hearing on November 15, the ministry’s attorney Peggy Ann Brandon said that the minister had withdrawn the contested national decree and that a new draft national decree, containing the correct appointment and promotion, was ready.

The court ruled that the national decree of May 3, 2021, is incomplete, because it contains nothing about the plaintiffs’ promotions. It ordered the ministry to take a new decision within four weeks that abides by the settlement agreement.

The court expressed its displeasure with the ministry’s behavior by imposing a “higher than usual” penalty for noncompliance because of the way the ministry had handled the plaintiffs’ dossiers over the years. The ministry also has to pay the legal plaintiffs’ legal costs of 1,400 guilders ($782).

“Look how angry the judge is,” Merx said in a brief comment on the ruling. “She even goes beyond our demands by imposing a penalty.”

“This is a matter of great importance,” Justice Minister Anna Richardson stated in a press release issued immediately after the ruling. The advice and the draft national decree that regulates the correct legal position of the officers have been submitted to the governor, the release stated.

Richardson described the situation that resulted in the court case as “in its totality definitely unacceptable.”

“I have vowed to correct what has been pending for the past years,” the minister stated, though she added that it may take “a couple of months for the current team to address the many matters pending.”

Merx pointed out that, based in the Kingdom Law Police for St. Maarten the minister of justice has the authority to appoint, suspend and fire extraordinary police officers. This law stipulates that the countries (and therefore St. Maarten) define general measures in a national decree about the appointment, suspension and dismissal of extraordinary police officers and about the requirements they have to meet for their ability, suitability and reliability.

Here is the catch, according to attorney Merx. The plaintiffs involved in the court case are Dutch officers charged with general police duties. Formally they cannot be appointed, because St. Maarten has not established a national decree that sets the standards for authority, ability and suitability.  “This decree is still lacking and as long as that is the case these officers cannot be appointed, let alone allowing them to function outside of their countries (Curacao and Aruba – also consider the investigation of undermining activities).”

In 2011, Merx continues, former Justice Minister Roland Duncan allowed the classes of 2011 and 2015 to take the oath as extraordinary police officers with general investigation authority while these people had not even completed the basic police training. People were made extraordinary police officers under political pressure and in violation of the kingdom law and the Code of Criminal Procedures. This means that those officers cannot have written any report under oath.”

According to Merx, the police unions cannot be happy with this situation because “regular” police officers first had to undergo serious training while other officers just completed the basic training and then were given the same level of authority. “This can never have been the intention of the legislator. The minister created a way to (politically) supplement the shortage of staff with unauthorized extraordinary police officers. Even worse is that the minister allows them to perform general police duties while they are not authorized to do this.”

On the other hand, Merx said, “the court has ruled that if the minister created the expectation that these officers have full authority, she’ll have to give them the appropriate rank and salary.”

The story will continue at a later date with the class of 2015 that is confronted with the same problem.

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Related articles:
Minister of Justice reacts to court ruling in connection with KPSM Class of 2011



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