As per January 1, the Court of First Instance welcomed two new judges: Mauritsz de Kort and Maria Paulides. With their arrival, the St. Maarten branch of the Joint Court of Justice of Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten and of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba now has five judges. This writes The Daily Herald.
The new arrivals came after criminal Judge Koos van de Ven returned to the Netherlands for personal reasons, in October 2014. Both De Kort and Paulides are no newcomers to St. Maarten. Born and raised in Aruba by his Aruban father and mother from Curaçao, De Kort (41) moved to the Netherlands to pursue his studies. He studied law at Leiden University and obtained his Master’s degree in London,England. He returned to the Caribbean in 2000 to become a lawyer on Curaçao. In 2003, he moved to Aruba and also worked as a lawyer on St. Maarten between 2004 and 2006. In 2007, he started his studies to become a judge, which he completed in 2011.
Prior to coming to St. Maarten, De Kort was an (investigative) judge dealing with criminal cases at the Court on Curaçao, where he also dealt with media affairs. He will be performing similar duties here on St. Maarten, but will also be presiding over Court cases on St. Eustatius. De Kort is also chairman of the Supervisory Committee of Prisons, which will add to a full agenda.
Paulides (57) worked as a judge at the Court in Curaçao between 2007 and 2013. From 2009, she presided over criminal cases. She also visited St. Maarten a few times. In 2013, Paulides returned to the Netherlands and dealt with administrative cases with the Court in The Hague.
On St. Maarten, Paulides and De Kort will both preside over criminal cases, with De Kort focusing on traffic cases and on cases involving suspects who are not held in pre-trial detention. De Kort said that five judges are no luxury as the St. Maarten Court has to deal with more and more cases. “The Prosecutor’s Office has increased its staff to six prosecutors. This is being reflected not only in an increasing number of criminal cases, but the Court is also confronted with more formal procedures, investigations, requests and complaints concerning pre-trial investigations,” he said. This was reason for the Joint Court to assign two judges to St. Maarten to join Court Vice-President Koen Luijks and civil judges Katja Mans and Tamara Tijhuis.
Among De Kort’s tasks as “media judge” will be the introduction of media guidelines. These guidelines for print media as well as television and radio have already been introduced on Curaçao in December 2014, and will also be presented to the media of St. Maarten, Statia and Saba, De Kort said.
The new judge has not met with the Prison Committee as yet, but explained the committee is to ensure that the law is being respected. “The committee meets once per month and oversees the detention situation in Pointe Blanche prison and in the detention cells at the police stations in Philipsburg and Simpson Bay.” De Kort said a visit to the new Miss Lalie Youth Care and Rehabilitation Centre in Cay Bay is also scheduled in his capacity of investigating judge. It is no secret that the detention of prisoners and crime suspects leaves much to be desired. On many occasions, the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment CPT had been highly critical of the conditions under which the prison population is being housed here.
“An investigating judge also hears a lot of complaints about the detention situation. We can do something about it, but it is a real challenge. We do not want to be blacklisted by CPT. They say, however, that only two persons should be detained in one cell, but how can we achieve that as cell space is limited,” De Kort said in illustrating the dilemma between human rights and limited (financial) means. The Supervisory Committee also hears complaints concerning disciplinary measures against inmates, such as, for instance, a ban on visitors. “This week, the committee received five such complaints,” the committee’s chairman said. Being a Dutch Caribbean judge himself, De Kort stressed the importance of local judges working on the islands of the former Netherlands Antilles and Aruba. “It would be good for St. Maarten to also have a face at the Joint Court of Justice. You can also serve your country in this capacity,” he said in urging St. Maarteners to apply for the so-called RIO training to become a judge.