Moving to Saba: "I only realised the meaning of being the only Master of Law on the island when I actually lived there"

Gerald en Justin op hun geiten- en kippenboerderij

This is the initial segment of a two-part series on the career and life of Gerald Simmons – de Jong, an Erasmus School of Law alumnus. Gerald, born in Indonesia and raised in the Netherlands, now resides and works in the Caribbean Netherlands. He lives on a goat and chicken farm on Saba with his husband, Justin Simmons – de Jong. Gerald runs his own, and the only, law firm on the island. Additionally, for over six years, he has served as an investigative judge in criminal cases on Saba, is an external PhD candidate at the University of Curaçao, and is involved in various boards. In this first part, Gerald talks about his initial projects, how he ended up on Saba, and his first experiences on the island.

After completing his studies, Gerald moved to the Caribbean in 2013, starting his career in Curaçao. At that time, he worked at VANEPS, formerly VanEps Kunneman VanDoorne, which had a training period of several months at the main office. Following this orientation period, Gerald relocated to his branch in Sint Maarten.

The first project in the Caribbean

Sint Maarten comprises a French and Dutch part. In the Dutch part, Gerald had the opportunity to collaborate with VANEPS on the separation of the shared electricity company Bovenwindse Eilanden (GEBE). Gerald: "In 2013, I hit the jackpot at VANEPS. Alongside the then-office partner in Sint Maarten, Kamla Besançon, I facilitated the split of GEBE NV. I could not imagine a better introduction to the Caribbean." Before January 1, 2014, GEBE was the sole producer and supplier of electricity for the small islands of Saba and Sint Eustatius, with everything being managed from Sint Maarten. "All activities were directed from Sint Maarten. The monthly energy bills were literally printed at the GEBE headquarters in Sint Maarten and flown to Saba once a month to be personally distributed to approximately 1100 customers", Gerald explains.

New electricity companies were established on both Saba and Sint Eustatius. Due to the electricity supply being the only utility on each island, separating Saba and Sint Eustatius from Sint Maarten involved unique roles for the local island territories and the Kingdom government. Besides the typical private law aspects of restructuring, numerous special administrative and constitutional elements also existed. Approvals were required from island administrators, country administrators, and Hague representatives. During this project, Gerald experienced for the first time how legally complex matters can be in the Caribbean Netherlands despite its small scale.

Moving to Saba for love

During the project, Gerald met his husband Justin on Saba. Saba is the smallest special municipality of the Netherlands. Justin comes from a traditional Sabanese family and has been running a farm on the island with his parents throughout his life. Leaving was not a straightforward option for him. After much consideration, Gerald decided to move to Saba for love in 2015. There, Gerald took on the role of legal counsel for the Public Entity.

In 2018, Gerald and Justin got married on Saba. This also had a unique legal aspect due to the non-automatic recognition of LGBTQ+ rights in the Caribbean. For instance, in Curaçao, Aruba, and Sint Maarten, it is still not possible for a same-sex couple to marry. However, this is allowed on Bonaire, Saba, and Sint Eustatius because these three islands are directly part of the Netherlands as public bodies. Nevertheless, their marriage was still unique as Justin became the first local man to enter into a same-sex marriage on Saba.

The transition from Sint Maarten to Saba went smoothly, although Gerald never expected to live on a goat and chicken farm in his life. Gerald expresses his growing fondness for the close-knit community. "Everyone is interconnected and somehow dependent on each other. Sometimes it is challenging, and sometimes it makes things easier. The most important thing is realizing that you always need each other, and it is crucial to treat each other with respect."

Gerald in zijn toga.

The only lawyer on the island

Besides significantly impacting his personal life, the move to Saba was also unique for Gerald's career. "Saba was like a pressure cooker. Under immense workload, you learn a lot in a very short time. You are the only point of contact for the Public Entity, both internally and externally. Alongside the then Island Secretary Tim Muller, the board, and a handful of other colleagues, we were able to accomplish many great things for the island."

At that time, Gerald was the only lawyer on the island. Typically, lawyers come to Saba but leave just as quickly. Because Gerald had a local partner, it became clear early on that he would stay on Saba longer than other lawyers. Gradually, trust began to grow on the island, with more and more citizens seeking him out for a wide range of questions.

Gerald notes that decisions on Saba are often made more from gut feelings and personal considerations than from factual knowledge and legal foundations. Concepts like general principles of good governance were unheard of, and a legal review before decision-making was completely unfamiliar. Gerald explains that there was significant resistance to the unknown. "On Saba, they embrace the grey area. That is where they feel most comfortable. From the grey area, you can constantly make decisions based on gut feelings and personal opinions." According to Gerald, this embrace of the grey area is not very surprising: "That is how they have had to do it on Saba for centuries." Step by step, Gerald, along with colleagues, the former Island Secretary Tim Muller, and the local government, found their way in.


In the second part, you will learn more about Gerald's career in the Caribbean. He will discuss his work as a legal counsel, the opening of his law firm on Saba, and the legal developments the island has undergone over the past years.

Compare @count study programme

  • @title

    • Duration: @duration
Compare study programmes