Jurists seeking to explore another facet of the criminal justice system of the Dutch Caribbean can do this by training to become a prosecutor. This opportunity is available via the Prosecutor-in-Training (“Officier-in-Opleiding”) programme.
The programme was expanded from one person with a master’s degree in law and five years’ relevant experience to train as a prosecutor to four such spaces over two years. Applications for this year’s recruits is now closed; the call for the next two spaces will open in 2022.
The programme is part of the push by the Office of the Attorney General of Curaçao, St. Maarten and Bonaire, St. Eustatius and Saba and the Prosecutor’s Offices to attract, in particular, more people from the Dutch Caribbean legal community to enter the field of prosecution.
There is currently one prosecutor-in-training, attorney Vidjin Awadhpersad, who is currently stationed with the Police Force of St. Maarten KPSM, where he is learning about the internal procedures of the police as well as getting practical experience as an “officer on the beat”.
Awadhpersad was always drawn to the criminal justice system, an interest that was fuelled by his criminal law studies at the Vrije University in Amsterdam and internships during his criminal law studies at the courthouse in Amsterdam and the Prosecutor’s Office in Haarlem. Both experiences in the Netherlands exposed him to the way judges formulate their verdict and how prosecutors approach cases.
Studies completed, he was hired as a young jurist by the Prosecutor’s Offices in Utrecht and Amsterdam, along with other peers to reduce the backlog in minor cases that were piled up for various reasons.
Following this, he branched out making a career as a criminal law attorney with a law firm in Curaçao. It was on that island a few years later that the opportunity to really pursue the career path he wanted presented itself – to become a prosecutor.
‘Right side of the law’
“I always wanted to be on the right side of the law, although I am also aware of the fact that every suspect has the important right to get assistance from an attorney. I knew from early on that this side – as a prosecutor – fits me better,” Awadhpersad said of applying for the challenge. His background as a lawyer would prove a plus in the training process.
Head of the Prosecutor-in-Training Selection Committee St. Maarten Chief Prosecutor Mirjam Mol said of Awadhpersad, “Vidjin showed the determination and passion for the administration of justice, key foundation points for a good prosecutor.” His knowledge of the – Dutch – Caribbean culture also aided in his selection.
To start off this training, Awadhpersad was attached to the St. Maarten Prosecutor’s Office for one month of familiarisation before heading to the Netherlands for three months of pivotal studies and examination.
After the examination he headed back to St. Maarten where, for eight months, he worked on smaller investigations and had “on-call” duty as the – acting – prosecutor. The next phase was his conducting his own small investigations.
Curaçao was the next destination for eight months: three with the Prosecutor’s Office, and for five months he was stationed with the Joint Court of Justice to learn about the procedures there. This included working on cases and delivering the verdicts under the guidance of the judge (final court hearing) and the judge of instruction (pre-detention phase).
Working with KPSM
Awadhpersad is working with KPSM for the next three months. This is not standard in the Prosecutor-in-Training programme. Aside from the required aspects of the training, the participant can tailor his/her focus.
The choice of joining KPSM was a strategic one for Awadhpersad, as the Prosecutor’s Office and police have a symbiotic relationship.
“I wanted this in my training. As a prosecutor, you read on paper what is written by the police about an incident. This way I can see for myself what the police face in the field. When paperwork comes in the future, I will have a better insight into what was possible,” he explained.
His time with the police also aids in forging connections with colleagues. “When there is a good connection, it is easier and more effective to work,” Awadhpersad said. This experience, he added, will also help with obtaining more insight into the St. Maarten community.
Awadhpersad’s training wraps up in the coming months, after which he will become a prosecutor in St. Maarten.
He is not the only person to be trained as a prosecutor in the Dutch Caribbean. Altagracia Rienhart-Martis was the first to be chosen for the programme in March 2016.
Armed with her Master’s degree in law, she was employed with the Prosecutor’s Office in Curaçao at the time of her selection and had been working there for almost five years. Training completed, she is now a prosecutor in Bonaire.
Rienhart-Martis, sharing her motivation for becoming a prosecutor, said it is important for the locals to be represented in the prosecution service. “The public is able to see themselves when they see the faces of the [Prosecutor’s – Ed.] Office and not have people that do not speak their language,” she said.
Further, suspects and victims deserve to be able to express themselves in their own language while addressing the prosecutor and to trust that they are being understood, she added, “not only by the words they use, but also by the various different ways in which they say those words, which each time has a different meaning,” said Rienhart-Martis.
Being a prosecutor is not only a good way to serve one’s community; it has its own personal rewards. Rienhart-Martis said her best moments related to victims who shared their happiness about her listening to their side of the story, taking them seriously and giving her all to their case.
“Regardless of the outcome of the case, being able to give people closure or make them feel like justice has been done for them is the fuel that keeps me going each and every time. After all, that is the main reason I applied for this job, to make sure I help justice be served,” said Rienhart-Martis.
To learn more about the Prosecutor-in-Training programme, visit click here.