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Improved rights for victims in draft for new St. Maarten crime law


PHILIPSBURG–The first copy of the draft code of criminal procedures was presented to Justice Minister Dennis Richardson by Professor Hans de Doelder yesterday. The draft law is a modernised version of the current code that has been law since 1997.

“This is something everybody is comfortable with,” said Solicitor-General Taco Stein.

Work began on a new code in 2007, 10 years after the current code became law. Consultations in a committee consisting of representatives of the Prosecutor’s Office, the judiciary, the police and the Bar Association resulted in the new draft law relating to the code, which is a uniform law for St. Maarten, Curaçao, Aruba and the BES islands Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba.

Minister Richardson said he wanted to establish the new law as soon as possible. “This is a major accomplishment,” he said.

Before being implemented, the draft will go to the Council of Ministers for approval, followed by the Advisory Council. After this, possible adjustments will be made. Richardson said: “It is a uniform law, so if we make any changes, the other countries and the BES islands also have to agree.”

Most of the work on the draft was done by De Doelder, who is a professor in criminal law at Erasmus University, and Erasmus Centre for Penal Studies (ECPS) Director Joost Verbaan.

De Doelder said a large number of changes followed from requirements established in the European Human Rights Convention. When the code becomes law, attorneys will have access to suspects as soon as they are arrested. This already happens in practice, based on the so-called Salduz arrest of the European Human Rights Court.

Pre-trial detention terms will become shorter under the new code. Suspects currently have to appear before the Judge of Instruction after the second day in detention to verify the legality of the arrest, and on the third day the court has the option to prolong the detention to eight days.

Under the new code, a suspect will see the Judge of Instruction only on the fourth day after his arrest, after which detention can be authorised for a further three days. After the first eight days in force under the current code, the option to extend the detention by two times eight days will be changed to a one-time extension of 10 days after the first two terms of three days.

Suspects who are held longer in detention now face a prolongation of 60 days and after that a single extension of 30 days. These two terms will be merged into a single extension of 90 days. The changes are based on European law.

“Also, there will be more requirements before someone can be taken into custody,” said De Doelder. An important consequence of the new code is that the position of victims will improve: “The prosecution will get the right to seize assets from perpetrators to compensate victims and victims will get the right to address the court at trial.”

The new code also offers a higher level of protection to journalists who want to protect their sources.

Legislation for special investigation methods (known as the BOB law) will be adjusted to accommodate foreign law enforcement officers. This will make international cooperation easier. The code furthermore establishes a crown witness protection programme.

Solicitor-General Taco Stein said, “I am proud that this draft code is first presented here in St. Maarten. This code is a trade-off between the different parties in the judicial chain. We also have to look at what can be done and what needs to be done. The result of the work in the committee is a balanced situation. I am glad to have this code to work with. We will be ready for the future.”

Stein said the code would not have a long lifespan, due to rapid changes in the judicial system. The previous code was established 10 years ago, replacing a code that had been in place for 70 years. “Maybe we can do with this one for 10 years,” he said.

Source: The Daily Herald, St. Maarten

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