More room for other languages in legal system on the islands

THE HAGUE–Current legislation allows for the use of other languages than Dutch in cases where crime suspects are not well-versed in the Dutch language, caretaker Minister of Security and Justice Stef Blok said in reaction to a report on the consequences of multilingualism for law enforcement in the Caribbean Netherlands.

In a letter to the Second Chamber, Minister Blok said it was “good” that the Law Enforcement Council had researched the use of several languages by the judicial partners.

On Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius it is no exception that residents do not read, write or understand Dutch very well. However, Dutch is the formal legal language in the Netherlands, and in the Caribbean Netherlands.

In Bonaire Papiamentu is the dominant spoken language, and on Saba and Statia people predominantly speak English. Besides, Spanish is the first language of speech of a substantial part of the population.

Minister Blok said he agreed with the standpoint of the Law Enforcement Council that Dutch is the formal legal language and the language of the Courts. Therefore, no laws will be changed to allow the use of other languages, besides Dutch, the Minister stated.

In its report, the Law Enforcement Council made several recommendations where it concerned the Prosecutor’s Office, the Police Force Caribbean Netherlands KPCN, and the Royal Marechaussee.

One of the recommendations was to allow Police Officers to draft reports in English to avoid mistakes made during translations from the language in which the interview was conducted into the Dutch language.

Minister Blok said it is important that police reports of interrogations are as accurate as possible, and should contain statements in the suspect’s own words.

He said statements should be drafted in English in case someone is heard in English and without the assistance of an interpreter, which is often the case in the Caribbean Netherlands.

For interviews conducted in Papiamentu or Spanish, Blok said reports should be read out to suspects by a different Police Officer, and not by the one who questioned the suspect.

Minister Blok said he had asked the Prosecutor’s Office of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba and the Joint Court of Justice whether there were any legal objections to adopting the Law Enforcement Council’s recommendations. Their response was that there were no legal or practical objections to a Police report that is partially drafted in English.

To put an end to the ambiguity about police reports in English, Blok said he would ask the Solicitor-General to inform the Police and make an end to the uncertainty on this matter.

Blok said he had no information that crime suspects actually had been disadvantaged due to language problems. The Law Enforcement Council also had not reported any such incidents.

Papiamentu is the main spoken language on Bonaire. The Law Enforcement Council said that during internal KPCN meetings and in informal contacts Papiamentu should be the standard language. The use of Dutch should be avoided and be an exception.

Minister Blok said he subscribed the importance of sufficient knowledge of Papiamentu among police officers who perform a public function, “also when they come from abroad and work in the Caribbean only temporarily.”

However, as the Law Enforcement Council stated in its report, proficiency in Dutch is an important requirement for entering the judiciary, including the Police. The Minister subscribed to this standpoint. “The Police training is conducted in Dutch. Study material and legislation are drafted in Dutch,” the Minister said.

Source: The Daily Herald