Erik Witjens - Libertas Advocaten - Rotterdam Maritime Services Community - RMSC

Erik Witjens: be quick to seek assistance and avoid the risk of litigation

Rotterdam Maritime Services Community – In the limelight

Libertas Advocaten - Rotterdam Maritime Services Industry - RMSCCriminal defense attorney Erik Witjens at Libertas Advocaten, notices an increased trend for society to no longer accept risks. In the past risks were somewhat regarded as part of life. However this attitude has clearly changed. Driven by public opinion authorities are eager to hold someone responsible or culpable if something bad happens.

As we all know, because of the nature of the maritime industry, sometimes things just go wrong without someone to blame. Libertas advices the industry to be aware and leery of the trend of looking for culprits and the possibility of criminal prosecution. According to Witjens companies can significantly reduce the risk of liability under criminal law if they seek legal assistance in the early stages of an incident, although a sanction under administrative law might still follow.

Libertas Advocaten is a relatively young law firm that specialises in criminal and administrative law. Opposed to large(r) firms where criminal law is often a small part of the services portfolio, Libertas is dedicated to serve clients in this area exclusively. The firm is hands-on, horizontally structured and a hundred percent focussed on doing things that actually matter.

Staying out of court

A large chunk of Witjens work deals with preventing clients even having to go to court. The sooner legal assistance is called in, the bigger the chance of staying out of court is. The aim is to make sure that initial statements about an incident are as factual as possible, free of emotional colouring. This helps to prevent authorities to get the wrong impression. Witjens explains: “An oil leakage in port for example, is not only an factual incident. It also emotionally affects people involved. Maybe even questioning themselves if they or the company made a mistake. And it is quite common to react in this manner. Such reactions could cloud factfinding and influence opinions. Opening the door to thoughts of possible misconduct, that might lead to a court case.” By providing counsel and keeping statements factual, companies can really help authorities to form a clear picture. And also prevent unnecessary lengthy court cases and negative publicity.

A watchful eye on the maritime industry

In addition Witjens sees that there is increased attention in society for topics such as corruption and social responsibility. Operating in an international and potential sensitive arena, this attention is highly relevant to the maritime industry. Corruption is high on the agenda for example. Even alleged corruption is already enough to get the attention of the justice department. Sometimes international conduct does not comply with the Dutch perspective. Resulting in classifying common practice as corruption when that is not really the case. The maritime industry is being watched stricter by the day. Also from a criminal law perspective. Witjens: “The industry needs to be aware of this development. When something appears to be happening, it is especially important to get legal advice in an early stage. This might help to prevent things spinning out of control.” He continues: “When a company fails to communicate in an open and transparent manner in case of a work related accident for example, the inspection might think that something is wrong and the company is trying to hide something. To prevent suspicion or even the hint of not being sincere it helps to come forward immediately after the incident occurs.”

Benefits of the Rotterdam Maritime Services Community

When asked about why Libertas is a member of the Rotterdam Maritime Services Community Witjens is very clear. From his point of view it is important that the maritime business services industry works together. On the one hand to increase exposure towards possible clients and relevant trade associations. On the other hand to position Rotterdam as an attractive hub opposed to competing maritime hotspots. Or as he states “For us it is highly useful that Rotterdam is promoted as a great maritime hub. When maritime companies are attracted to do business in Rotterdam it also provides opportunities for the entire maritime business services industry.”