GREAT BAY – It is not responsible yet to switch completely to English in the administration of justice, the President of the Common Court of Justice, Eunice Saleh said on Friday during the installation of Paula van der Burgt as a new member of the court in Philipsburg.
Saleh said later in her speech that the court is prepared to think along about the promotion of English. “But the focal point is that the courthouse is there for the community of St. Maarten where practically everybody is a native English speaker.”
Saleh pointed out that there are still several stumbling points to deal with, before English could become the official language of the court. “First of all it requires an amendment of the Kingdom Law, because it currently stipulates that verdicts are written in Dutch. Other regulations may have to be amended too and currently there is no link with legislation, because it is currently written in Dutch. One should also consider that judges and attorneys are being educated in the Dutch language.”Saleh suggested that this requires training in legal English.”
Saleh addressed the language issue based on a report about Parliament president Sarah Wescot-Williams who expressed her satisfaction with the fact that the government has taken the first steps towards making English the country’s first language. She also referred to Finance Minister Gibson’s initiative to start an English-language law school.
Saleh took her audience back to the fifties of last century when the Frisian journalist and politician Fedde Schurer was dragged into court for insulting a judge in a newspaper article. Schurer attacked the court because a judge had pretended not to understand the Frisian language. The court case resulted in riots in front of the courthouse whereby several people sustained injuries. In 1956 legislation was implemented that regulates the use of the Frisian language in judicial matters.
Saleh furthermore referred to the Roman philosopher Seneca who once said that language mirrors the soul, also the soul of a society. “Language is the identity of the people and the administration of justice is for a large part language and it is about people. As far as I know, there have not been riots in St. Maarten about this issue, but it was not always obvious that English was one of the official judicial languages.”
Saleh said that the Dutch language claimed the monopoly on language in the courtroom in the nineteenth century and that this immediately led to problems in the Antilles. “Litigating in that language was hindered because of lacking knowledge of Dutch. The Council of Justice in St. Maarten decided on its own authority to write reports and verdicts in English. This happened on June 17, 1869 during the first session of that council.”
Three years later the first Antillean regulation for judicial language was there. The judge got the freedom to determine which langue he would use. As a result, English became the language of choice in the Windward Islands.
Saleh also addressed the composition of the court in her address, saying that it is in the interest of the administration of justice to have a court system that mirrors the community it serves. “It is the conviction of the court that further Caribbeanizing of the court is in the interest of the countries and the administration of justice. There has to be a proper balance, and assistance from Dutch justice remains expedient. This prevents fossilization and brings in new expertise on a regular basis.”
Saleh welcomes Judge Paula van der Burgt who will deal with civil law, family law and administrative law in St. Maarten.
Van der Burgt (1964) studies at the Catholic University Nijmegen and was a judge at the court in Den Bosch since 2002.
Saleh said that Van der Burgt has a link with the Caribbean: “She met her husband 25 years ago on the yacht De Eendracht on its way from the Netherlands to Curacao.”
Saleh furthermore introduced Judge Peter Lemaire, a former vice president of the court in Aruba who has succeeded Katja Mans in the same function in St. Maarten. Lemaire will handle criminal cases, civil law procedures and summary proceedings.