Small Claims Court provision still unknown and hardly used | THE DAILY HERALD

PHILIPSBURG–It may be one of the least known provisions of the Joint Court of Justice, but the low-threshold Small Claims Court provision may be a good solution for justice-seekers with such claims.

Last month, Minister of Justice Cornelius de Weever reminded the public about the possibility of using the small claims court for any outstanding financial issues between parties involving claims up to a maximum of NAf. 10,000.

“The Small Claims Court is, in fact, a manner of speech. It does not consider a special court, but a special, low-threshold procedure with a low Court fee which has been included in the Code of Civil Procedure for quite some time already, but it is hardly used as few seem to be aware of this provision,” said Vice-President of the Joint Court of Justice in St. Maarten Peter Lemaire.

The Small Claims Court is mentioned in Article 862 E.V. Rechtsvordering. It is intended to resolve civil cases involving small claims in a simplified manner and with an informal hearing.

Costs of the legal procedures are kept low because attorneys and marshals are not involved, as the claimant is allowed to present his or her case without the assistance of a lawyer.

Persons are able to file claims involving breaches of written and verbal contracts, return of down payments, return of payments for defective merchandise and non-payment of loans, or faulty workmanship, damage to property, personal injury, et cetera.
The person in dispute will get three weeks to respond to the claim against him or her. If there is no response the judge will render a verdict. The possibility to hear both parties is also possible without lawyers.

To improve access, the Court has created a form that is now accessible via its website:

The petition for a court order for payment is in the Dutch language, but versions in English and Papiamentu, and possibly also in Spanish, will be made available soon.
“Persons with a small claim seeking justice can complete the form at home, print it out and file it at the counter [of the Courthouse Registry – Ed.] against payment of a NAf. 50 (US $27.50) fee. The next step is to enable the procedure to be submitted digitally,” Judge Lemaire said.

Regular litigation at a Civil Court is a complicated and often time-consuming procedure. It can also be very costly as there are fees for lawyers and bailiffs involved and the Court fees, starting at NAf. 450, are also higher, depending on the claim’s amount.
To accommodate residents with small claims this provision was created, “and we hope that residents start making use of it,” Lemaire said.

There are, however, several snags, the Court’s Vice-President warned. First of all, the request for payment needs to be properly motivated. Another possible complication may be the fact that bailiffs are not involved in delivering summonses to defendants who have to appear in the Small Claims Court.

Summonses are sent out by the Court’s Registry, but persons not registering their correct addresses entail the risk of people not receiving their summons.

This could result in undisputed and unfavourable verdicts, with as a consequence appeals, in which marshals and the regular Court will be involved nevertheless. The objective of a speedy and cost-effective procedure will then have not been met.

As businesses also have access to the Small Claims Court, be it against a fee of NAf. 100 ($55), litigants may still be confronted with (corporate) lawyers. “And in case government is involved they are always represented in Court by an attorney,” Lemaire explained.
One claim may also lead to another. “The owner of a property may be summoning a tenant because he’s not paying the rent, but the tenant may be stating that he’s not paying the rent because the owner declines to fix the roof.”

The Court Vice-President expects the Small Claims Court to be handling between 200 and 250 cases in St. Maarten per year. Residents of Saba and St. Eustatius may be more willing to use the Small Claims Court as the threshold for starting legal action is much higher on these two islands.

Currently, Statians and Sabans must travel to St. Maarten in seeking legal redress. Also, there are few lawyers on these two islands and no bailiffs. “It may, therefore, very well be that the effect is relatively stronger there,” said Lemaire. The Court of First Instance will be opening a desk with a part-time registrar in Saba and Statia in the near future.

Source: The Daily Herald