All residents of Bonaire, Saba, and Statia will be entitled to free legal help or advice in 2024. There will be a legal desk on every island, outgoing Minister Franc Weerwind (Legal Protection) announced.
Are you getting into trouble with a store, your health insurance, or the tax authorities? Do you want to know what your rights are? In the European Netherlands, you can go to a legal desk, legal center, or social lawyer if you have a low income. But in the Caribbean municipalities, residents cannot easily receive help anywhere, except from a lawyer they must pay.
That is why, according to outgoing Minister Weerwind, there will be a legal counter on every island ‘in 2024’ where people can go. Residents can then receive free help with legal questions in their language – Papiamentu, English, Dutch, and Spanish.
‘Residents insufficiently aware of their rights’
Bonaire, Saba, and Statia became special municipalities of the Netherlands in 2010. Since then, authorities on the islands and in the European Netherlands have warned that The Hague must take action because residents do not know what their rights are. They also have difficulty getting answers to their legal questions. There is also little to be found online.
In 2016, the National Ombudsman and the Netherlands Institute for Human Rights jointly sent an urgent letter to the House of Representatives.
Help, no matter how much you earn
A striking difference with the European Netherlands is that (for the time being) there will be no income requirement for the legal desk on the islands.
In the European Netherlands, you may earn a maximum of 28,600 euros (single) or 40,400 euros (married or cohabiting) to receive help at the legal desk. For information or advice on Bonaire, Saba, and Statia, it will not matter how much you earn.
According to outgoing Minister Weerwind, the intention is for the legal desk to be ‘as accessible as possible’; for people and to be known to as many people as possible. “It therefore did not seem appropriate to impose income thresholds at this initial stage,” a spokesperson said.
If necessary, people are referred to a legal specialist, lawyer, or support agency. Because the islands are small communities, it is expected that mediation will mainly be used to resolve the legal problems of residents.
What does a legal desk do?
The legal desk provides answers to legal questions and helps residents with problems in the areas of housing and neighbors, work and income (dismissal), family and relationships, police and justice, purchases and warranty, and Debt and Collection.
Property law, real estate, and business issues will not be considered. So, companies cannot turn to the legal desk for help.