Joint Court President Mauritsz de Kort (second right) presenting the court’s 2022 annual report, with Aruba courthouse manager Ernesto Kross, court vice president in Aruba Jacques Keltjens, interim director of operations Lex van Rooijen and “press” judge in Aruba Debby Angela.
WILLEMSTAD/PHILIPSBURG--The Joint Court of Justice of Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten and of Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba presented its 2022 annual report and annual accounts during a simulcast press conference on Monday, May 29.
“In many ways, 2022 can be seen as a year of recovery, after two years of forced slowdown by the coronavirus pandemic,” said Joint Court of Justice president Mauritsz de Kort.
The annual report reflects on the developments in the number of cases the Joint Court was faced with in 2022, both in first instance and on appeal.
In the year 2022, the total influx of first instance cases increased by 16%, compared to the COVID-19 year 2021, from 31,500 to 36,500 cases. These figures are still below pre-COVID levels in 2018 and 2019. However, the numbers are increasing again across all jurisdictions, particularly in administrative and criminal law, both by 17%.
A total of 36,300 cases were finalised in 2022. This is an increase of 14% compared to 2021, which is in line with the increase in inflows.
As for appeals, the total inflow in 2022 was more than 1,100 cases, which is a slight increase compared to the inflow in 2021. The inflow of administrative law cases increased by 11%, but civil law saw a decrease by 4%, while criminal law cases remained at the same level.
The outflow of appeal cases totalled more than 1,300 cases, an increase of 19% from 2021. The increase is largely caused by the higher outflow of tax cases at the court branches in Curaçao and Bonaire.
Where the Court in St. Maarten is concerned, the total inflow of cases increased from 4,217 cases in 2021 to 4,661 cases in 2022. Where criminal cases are concerned the inflow increased from 2,695 cases in 2021 to 3,261 cases in 2022. The number of serious crimes handled by the St. Maarten Court decreased from 420 cases in 2021 to 312 cases last year.
The number of first instance cases in administrative and civil law decreased from 1,118 cases in 2021 to 1,015 cases in 2022.
Interim director of operations Lex van Rooijen explained the Joint Court’s financial results. He said that the financial statements for 2022 closed with a positive result of NAf. 1.3 million, which is mainly due to an incidental release of a reserve.
In 2022, a judgment was rendered in a lawsuit filed by a group of courthouse employees in Aruba. The employees had a different interpretation of the applicable legislation pertaining to the application of indexation of salaries. As a result of the court ruling in this case a retroactive back-payment had to be made to all court employees in 2022, which entailed additional cost for the court which was covered by a reserve created for this purpose.
“In consultation with our external auditor, the entire reserve was actually released in the result for the year 2022, creating a large part of the positive result. In the coming years, as a result of the court ruling, the court will be faced with higher personnel cost, and this higher cost will be paid from the operating reserve, which is the general reserve of the court, which in 2022 was fed by the positive result of NAf. 1.3 million,” Van Rooijen said.
If this incidental gain from the release of the reserve had not occurred, the result of the court would have been only slightly positive, close to zero.
In general, there is an under-run in personnel cost, which accounts for about 80% of the court’s budget. This under-run is offset by an overrun in total operating, depreciation and project cost. This higher cost is partly the result of hiring of external personnel to catch up with the work backlog that had arisen after COVID-19.
The Joint Court is financed by the countries Aruba, Curaçao, St. Maarten and the Netherlands. During the pandemic, the Caribbean countries were particularly hard hit financially. As a result, the Joint Court decided of its own accord to show solidarity by making a financial contribution for the year 2020 and 2021 to the Caribbean countries in the Kingdom, which amounted to NAf. 3.1 million, which is a substantial sum on the Joint Court’s limited budget. It was also agreed with the Ministers of Justice of the four countries to put a ceiling and not to increase the court budgets for 2023 and 2024, compared to 2022.
“This shows the court’s solidarity with the four different countries and its responsibility to do its part for society, even in financially difficult times,” said Van Rooijen.
For the year 2025, the Joint Court expects financial headwinds due to rising prices, wage developments and due to the court ruling on indexation. The court will engage in discussions with the four ministers of justice to continue to ensure a healthy financial position of the court.
During the presentation of the annual report it was noted that it is increasingly difficult to attract legal specialists at the current local conditions of employment. “The employment conditions of our local employees, especially the legal employees, are not competitive in terms of salaries with the commercial sector and with similar positions in the Netherlands. This makes it increasingly difficult to attract qualified personnel,” said Van Rooijen.
This issue was also highlighted during a presentation of the annual report at the courthouse in St. Maarten, which followed the general presentation in Aruba. Vice-president of the Joint Court in St. Maarten Gertjan Wouters and operational manager Richelda Emmanuel mentioned the organisation of moot and summer courts in St. Maarten, participation in career fairs in the Netherlands, and an open house as means to make the general public better acquainted with the court and career opportunities in the judiciary.
The open house, which will be held at the 230-year-old courthouse in mid-November 2023 (around St. Maarten Day), is to include informational sessions about the functioning of the court and what transpires behind the scenes.
The Joint Court also had some good news for those seeking justice in St. Eustatius and Saba, as the Joint Court will be opening local branches on these two islands later this year.