Judicial System

In brief, the judicial system in Sint Maarten is organized as follows.

Sint Maarten falls under the jurisdiction of the Joint Court of Justice of Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten and Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba, based in Curaçao, which is the highest court in the Caribbean part of the Kingdom of the Netherlands and which serves as the appeal instance for cases which have been handled in first instance by the Court in First Instance of St. Maarten, based in the Courthouse in Philipsburg, which is the competent first instance court for all civil, administrative and criminal cases.

Cases in first instance are handled by a single judge, while appeal cases are handled by a panel of three judges. The Joint Court of Justice holds sessions in Sint Maarten approximately every six weeks.

Judgments given in appeal by the Joint Court of Justice may be submitted for cassation to the Supreme Court of the Netherlands, the highest judicial body in the Kingdom of the Netherlands.

 

Free Legal Aid

If you, as a Sint Maarten resident become embroiled in a legal dispute, but do not have a sufficient income to pay for the lawyer’s fee, you might be entitled to free legal aid. In order to receive free legal aid you must first apply for a yellow card (“gele kaart”). How the application procedure takes place and which conditions apply to the applicant is explained below.

1.         Income requirements
You are eligble to receive a yellow card if your income is equal to or less than the fixed gross minimum wage of NAF 882 – NAF 925 a month, depending on the industry you work in.

In special cases the Minister of Justice can make an exception in case your income is above said fixed gross minimum wage, but you are considered to be unable pay for your legal aid.

Moreover, the right to free legal aid is cancelled in case you, due to changes in your personal circumstances, at any moment are able to pay for the legal aid yourself.
2.         What should you do if your income is equal to or less than the fixed gross minimum wage ?
If your income is equal to or less than the fixed gross minimum wage, you can apply for the yellow card at the Department of Labour and Social Affairs, located at the Walter Nisbeth Road. At the Department of Labour and Social Affairs you will have to submit the following: A statement indicating your income, pursuant to the articles of the Landsverordening op de inkomstenbelasting 1943. Said statement is being issued by the Receiver (“Landsontvanger”).

3.         You are also eligible for free legal aid in case: 
The dispute, for which you require legal aid, concerns a labour dispute and your gross annual income does not exceed NAF 12.000,-.

The dispute, for which you require legal aid, concerns a labour dispute and your gross annual income exceeds NAF 12.000,- but does not exceed NAf 22.500. In this case you are only eligible for a yellow card if you pay the following amount to the Receiver:

  1. NAF. 50,-, in case the gross annual income exceeds NAF. 12.000,- however, does not exceed NAF. 15.000,-;
  2. NAF. 125,-,  in case the gross annual income exceeds NAF. 12.000,- however, does not exceed NAF. 17.500,-;
  3. NAF. 225,-,  in case the gross annual income exceeds NAF. 12.000,- however, does not exceed Naf. 20.000,-;
  4. NAF. 350,-,  in case the gross annual income exceeds NAF. 12.000,- however, does not exceed NAF. 22.500,-.


4.         Income means:

a. All income from labour, including additional jobs, like fixed salary, holiday allowance, provisions, profit bonus and such, that serve as a basis for income tax, excluding payments made regarding overtime and the allowance as meant in article 11, section 9 of the Arbeidsregeling 2000;
b. All other income besides labour, in case that income, compared to the income from labour as meant under a, represents at least one tenth of the total gross annual income.

Exceptions
In special cases the Minister of Justice can make an exception in case your income is above said fixed gross minimum wage, but you are considered to be unable pay for your legal aid.

What should you do?
In case you comply with the requirements mentioned in point a or b you can apply for a yellow card at the Labour Department (“Directie Arbeidszaken”). You need to submit the following:

  1. Recent payslip or payslips;
  2. If applicable, a statement from the Receiver of payment of the amount mentioned under point 3;
  3. In case you are unable to submit a payslip, you need to submit a statement as mentioned under point 1. Said statement must not just indicate the net income but also the gross income from labour.

5.         The Yellow Card 
If you, according to the Department of Labour and Social Affairs, are entitled to free legal aid, this will be printed on the yellow card. The yellow card will also mention the name of your lawyer assigned to you.

6.         Complaints 
In case you believe that your lawyer assigned to you does not represent your case in a sufficient manner, you can give a reasoned notice hereof to the Minister of Justice. The Minister of Justice will assess the merits of your complaints.

The assigned lawyer is not allowed to request, negotiate or accept gifts, rewards or compensation, of any kind, regarding the legal aid to be performed by him or her of any body.

In case the assigned lawyer has good grounds to doubt your inability, he will inform the Minister of Justice in a reasoned manner, unless his or her professional secrecy opposes to that. This will lead to the withdrawal of the yellow card or to a further investigation.

7.         Unjustly received free legal aid
In case you do have enough income and hence received free legal aid unjustly, the free legal aid can partially or in full be recovered from you by the government.

8.         You do not have your actual place of residence in Sint Maarten

In case you are a foreigner and not a resident in Sint Maarten, you are only eligible for free legal aid if a international treaty requires so. If such a treaty exists has to be determined in each case or each place of actual residence.

Foreigners who are non-residents are however, in principle, eligible for free legal aid in criminal proceedings.