Late February 2019 Saba will see the start of a most welcome pilot project for the island: the opening of a legal desk where people can get advice on all legal matters, ranging from family law and advice on a will, to labor conflicts and undivided properties. Saba is the first island in the Caribbean Netherlands to set up such a help desk in this form for legal aid.
The idea to start this pilot for a legal desk was born out of necessity: residents on Saba have limited access to quality legal advice and conflict resolution in the broadest sense. There is no permanent judiciary body, no permanent notary, no permanent attorneys-at-law and no mediators. Many residents, public and private institutions don’t know their rights and obligations, while companies struggle due to a lack of know-how.
Quality legal advice seems to be reserved for those who can financially afford it. And, because there is little conflict resolution, conflicts tend to linger and create unresolved tension within the small community. To remedy some of these pressing legal issues for the people, the Public Entity Saba, with the financial assistance of the Dutch Ministry of Home Affairs and Kingdom Relations (BZK), has decided to start a legal desk pilot for one year.
The legal desk will provide impartial advice, separately and independently from any government body. It will have a low threshold and anyone is welcome to come in for advice. The legal desk can solve relatively simple cases on its own, while it can refer complex cases to the right legal professional.
Also, the legal desk will have an educational function by organizing workshops and public gatherings where the different themes will be discussed, for example on immigration law, or undivided real estate or property law in the Dutch Caribbean. These workshops or town hall meetings will be held bimonthly on a Friday evening and will be open to the public. Depending on the topic, the relevant institutions will receive special invitations.
The Public Entity Saba has found Nathalie Tackling, a legal professional from St. Maarten, willing to come to Saba two days at the end of every month, on Friday evening and Saturday, at the end of every month. The legal desk will have walk-in hours and also work with appointments. The service provided will be free of charge to individual persons. Companies and organizations can make use of the services for a small fee.
The legal desk will operate a general practice, which means that the person manning the desk is well versed in all areas of the law and able to solve simple matters on the spot. The most common areas that the legal desk can help with will be: contract law, property law, labor law, family law, immigration law and administrative law. But residents can also take a conflict with their neighbor to the legal desk. In improving the conflict resolution, the legal desk will be able to act as a mediator between residents.
However, the legal desk is not to be confused with the Ombudsman. The latter handles complaints of citizens against the government. The legal desk that Saba will be establishing serves as an addition and a broadening of the services provided by the Ombudsman who regularly travels from the Netherlands to Saba.