The Saba Legal Desk has started back on March 1, 2021. Initially, the Legal Desk will function mostly digital, but when the policy to enter Saba changes per May 1, Nathalie Tackling will again come to the island for in-person consultations. The funding for the Legal Desk, which still comes from the Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations (BZK), has been extended for a year.
Even after one year, the pilot is still in its beginning stages. However, the initial year of the project has been a testament to its potential to further grow and continue to fulfill the need that exists within the population for such access to professional legal aid. What is clear is that the Legal Desk has lowered and continues to lower the threshold to access to legal aid on the island. Saba is the only island with a Legal Desk.
In this coming year, the Legal Desk and the Ministry of Justice and Safety are exploring the options together on how to ensure continuity and in what form is best for Saba and possibly also St. Eustatius. On Bonaire, the legal and judicial landscape is completely different, because Bonaire actually has its own judiciary, an on-island notary, and bar-appointed attorneys due to the size of the island.
The last time Tackling was able to physically be on Saba to hold consultations was in February 2020 before her visits were abruptly ended due to the pandemic. Tackling, a legal professional from St. Maarten, up to the pandemic came to Saba once a month for consultations on Saturdays.
Because she still wanted to help people with their legal issues in times of corona, she has been corresponding with people from Saba, mostly via emails. She has been receiving a lot of emails and many questions. With the official restart of the Legal Desk, be it in a limited format due to Saba’s entry regulations, Tackling is available for telephone calls, video calls, and emails. After May 1, when Saba partially reopens, Tackling will return to the island more frequently, depending on the developments of the pandemic.
Saba residents have limited access to quality legal advice and/or means of conflict resolution. There is no permanent judiciary body, no permanent notary, no permanent attorneys, and no mediators. Nor is there a presence that is independent and continuously on island, with most quality legal professionals continuously changing. In order to lower the threshold to access to legal advice and conflict resolution the Public Entity Saba instituted a pilot project in the form of a Legal Desk. The Legal Desk officially opened its doors to the public in February 2019 and ended just before the coronavirus pandemic in February 2020.
The main focus of the Legal Desk is to provide free legal aid and conflict resolution in the broadest sense. Residents typically approach the Legal Desk for legal information, advice on simple legal matters, assistance with drafting simple legal letters or court documents, and referrals to other legal professionals or notaries. Sabans and Statians need to travel to the Court House on St. Maarten to submit their legal paperwork. Before COVID-19, the judiciary would visit the smaller islands maybe once every six weeks, which would also be a moment to submit papers to the court. In this last year, this has been severely impeded due to COVID-19.
How does the Legal Desk work?
The Legal Desk conducts in-person consultations one day a month on Saba and works by appointment only. Experience has shown that appointments are far more efficient and make it possible for the Legal Desk to assist as many people as possible. The Legal Desk does not charge any of its clients a fee and all advisory work is carried out for free. Besides the in-person visits to Saba once a month, the Legal Desk is always available by email and while the general rule is that a client is only helped after they have had an in-person visit, the Legal Desk does make exceptions, at its own discretion. For example, depending on the simplicity of the matter or the personal circumstances of the client. The Legal Desk operates a general practice, with the most common areas being: Contract law, Property law, Inheritance law, Immigration law, Family law, Corporate Law, and Labor law. In addition to such, and in an effort to improve conflict resolution on the island, the Legal Desk, in as far as possible, acts as a mediator between residents.
Since the relaunch on March 1, the response to the reopening of the Legal Desk has been very enthusiastic, with requests pouring in, said Tackling. “My expectation for the coming year is that a bulk of the requests will have to do with the prescriptive rights procedure, given that this has proven to be a big issue on Saba. Besides that, what we often see in terms of questions to the Legal Desk often relate to family matters such as estate divisions, last wills, and testaments and divorce,” she stated. While the Legal Desk cannot go to court for clients, a service that is being added this year is the assistance with filing relatively simple and straightforward claims in court. This is also made possible given the fact that Tackling is based in St. Maarten.
As said, in terms of the long-term and structural sustainability of the project, discussions are ongoing with the Ministry of Justice and Safety with respect to how the project will continue in 2022. “It is a fantastic initiative. I am very grateful for this continued partnership with Saba and the opportunity to provide this much-needed service to the residents of Saba. It has proven to be invaluable and I see a lot of potential to continue to grow this initiative and would love to see a similar project for the sister island of St. Eustatius as well,” said Tackling.
People can email to firstname.lastname@example.org to make appointments and to submit legal questions.