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Brison: Government and Gov't owned companies should settle more out-of-court to reduce the financial burden.

rolandobrison22032020PHILIPSBURG:--- Honourable Member of Parliament and Leader of the United People's Party Rolando Brison says Government and Government Owned Companies must consider out-of-court settlements as a preferred option in legal disputes to avoid high costs and significant loss of production time.

Brison referred to recent developments relating to NV GEBE and one of its former employees who took the Company to Court and reportedly had to put a lien on the Company's accounts to support his position. He said while GEBE contests some of the claims by the former employee, the fact that this has come to a head in the local media shows the need for settlements to be the primary option explored. 

MP Brison said, "While disputes can happen and the Judicial Branch is there to settle matters, the system is designed in such a way to not only allow settlements but Courts often encourage it while recognizing that it cannot insist on out-of-court settlements."

MP Brison acknowledged that a settlement may not be appropriate in all circumstances but said this is where legal advice from litigators is crucial.

He said companies servicing the public should be encouraged to stay out of court proceedings due to potential legal costs, uncertainty, and possible damage to their brand from the publicity of litigation. MP Brison said, "Settling can allow you to avoid court, provided that you can get the person or entity suing your organization to agree to accept your settlement offer."

Much of the MP's concern comes from the financial burden that Court cases have brought upon Government, and Government owned companies over the past few years, which he says the people of St. Maarten ultimately bear the responsibility of paying back.

"Most legal experts will tell you that the main benefit of an out-of-court settlement is the reduction of the high cost of a trial. But we must remember that neither an actual settlement nor an offer of settlement is proof of guilt or complicity in any alleged wrongdoing," said Brison.

He said what is clear is that Companies that have endured financial struggles over the past few years, especially such as NV GEBE, can see their coffers further depleted by lengthy and costly court cases which do not serve the people of St. Maarten.

While offering this recommendation as a preferred course of action for Government and Government owned companies, Brison said he is aware that the Court of public opinion operates under different rules than the legal system.

In some cases, MP Brison says hiding behind the litigation process and "just saying the matter is in Court, so we have to let the lawyers handle it" is not the only course of action allowed by law. He noted that in civil proceedings, it is customary that parties are invited to a so-called appearance of the parties, which is an oral hearing to discuss the case after a summons and the written defence is issued. After the substance of the case has been discussed, the Court would typically ask whether parties are willing to try to reach a settlement. If both parties are open to settling, the case will be suspended for a short time to allow them to arrive at a settlement with help from their legal representatives. Additionally, Courts may give a provisional judgement on the case, so both parties have a guideline regarding how the Court views their matter. This provisional judgement often helps with a settlement attempt.

"The fact is that lawyers working for the Government earn more the longer the Court proceeding takes. While I cannot say this is their intention, we cannot deny that there is a financial incentive to keep disputes in Court," said MP Brison.

He said, "In general, the public should also encourage and welcome settlement opportunities from Government and Government owned Companies as it can save significant sums of money."

"I realize that some view a settlement as an admission of wrongdoing, especially if the settlement amount is substantial. But businesses have some tools to settle cases while protecting their reputation, which I would encourage them to use so they can return to the business of serving the people of St. Maarten," said Brison.

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