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Law Enforcement Council does not find any indications of class justice

PHILIPSBURG--The Prosecutor's Office in St. Maarten does not deal with high officials differently than with other citizens. That is the main conclusion of the Law Enforcement Council following the investigation concerning possible class justice by the Prosecutor's Office.

The investigation was launched after the ruling of the Court of First Instance in the so-called "Masbangu" vote-selling case, in which the Court ruled in August 2014 that the Prosecutor's Office, because of decisions made, had created the semblance of class justice.

In this case, the Prosecutor's Office had sought the conviction of five persons who had attempted to sell their vote to United People's (UP) party in the September 2010 election, whereas the party itself and its leadership were not prosecuted.

On appeal, which was heard in May 2015, the Joint Court arrived at the conclusion that the Judge at the Court of First Instance was erroneous and revoked the judgment of the Court of First Instance. Now, the Law Enforcement Council has come to the same conclusion.

The Council notes that there are several factors that contribute to forced selectivity in dealing with criminal cases. A very notable factor is the National Ordinance Prosecution of Political Authorities in St. Maarten. This ordinance puts restrictions on the prosecution of such officials, whereby Ministers and Members of Parliament are placed in a different legal and thus in a privileged position compared to the ordinary "man in the streets," the Council said.

The Council noted that this form of selectivity and inequality cannot be invoked against the Prosecutor's Office and that the Office is doing everything within the framework of the law and acts in an "inventive" manner to gather proof in criminal cases against high-profile suspects.

An equally important reason for selectivity in investigation and prosecution is the limited capability of the law enforcement chain in St. Maarten, according to the Council.

"Due to lack of capacity in the Police Force of St. Maarten, the National Detectives and the Prosecutor's Office, priorities need to be set in the investigation and prosecution of criminal offenses. Factors such as the severity and provability of the case and the duration and complexity of the investigation are important factors to prioritise," the Council stated.

Only a limited number of cases can be taken up because of the current level of the law- enforcement partners in St. Maarten. According to the Council this causes "societal dissatisfaction" and contributes to the perception that the Prosecutor's Office acts "selectively and not resolutely."

The Council also advised the Prosecutor's Office to continue to communicate and educate the public. "The Public Prosecutor's Office acknowledges this need and will continue to work to achieve his goal. The Public Prosecutor's Office agrees with the conclusions of the Council and endorses the recommendations given by the Council to the Minister of Justice," it was stated.

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