Published On: Mon, May 28th, 2018

Pay or face the consequences

Hilbert HaarBy Hilbert Haar

It is rather unsettling that pro bono attorneys have to go on strike on an annual basis for one reason only: the government is not paying them.

It happened in 2016, it happened in 2017 and now it is happening again. Invoices have not been paid since January –that’s close to five months without a penny for the services these attorneys provide.

To add insult to injury, Justice Minister de Weever has demanded that the lawyers stop charging the higher tariff they agreed upon with Minister Kirindongo in 2016. After two years, the minister had conveniently discovered that these tariffs have to be regulated by law.

Here we see again the government as an unreliable business partner. The justice ministry expects attorneys to help defendants who are unable to afford legal assistance on their own dime. And then it simply refuses to pay.

Pro bono lawyers do at times ungrateful work by defending people who cannot afford to pay. It is a right that befalls anybody who gets in trouble with the law.

By not paying the attorneys, and by allowing the strike to continue, the country does not only hurt the lawyers. It is also hurting all citizens – anybody can become a suspect overnight.

On another level, this situation is also hurting the complete judicial system. We have additional judges and courtroom staff helping out with the backlog in the handling of criminal cases. They are here for a period of three months.

Because of the strike, they will for the time being come to court for one reason only: to postpone trials and to set new trial dates.

Geert Hatzmann - AttorneyThe Dean of the Bar Association, Geert Hatzmann, has proposed to the ministry to pay at least 75 percent of the outstanding invoices and to come up with the rest of the money later in the year.

That proposal has fallen on deaf ears. The message from the minister seems to have been that the attorneys should end their strike!

In other words: I’m not paying you, but go back to work.

That is obviously not going to fly – and rightly so. These attorneys are entitled to their money and their clients are entitled to legal assistance. Furthermore, the court is not waiting for the build up of another backlog. And here is yet another potential effect. If nobody gets arrested anymore, what will this do to our local criminal minds? What will this do to the general safety of our citizens? Are armed robbers going to have a ball?

All these effects will become the responsibility of a minister who refuses to do what is just: paying people for the service they provide to the community.

In other words: pay or face the consequences.


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