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Netherlands: Judicial Reforms Proposed to Improve Access to Legal System

(Aug. 5, 2009) According to a press release issued by the Dutch Ministry of Justice on July 28, 2009, the Ministry has submitted a legislative proposal to make the country's legal system more accessible to its citizens. In addition, the Minister of Justice, Hirsh Ballin, has pledged to the Lower House of the Parliament that he will present plans for revision of the organization of local district courts, which is currently underway, by the end of the year. This revision would reduce the number of judicial administrative bodies by reducing the number of court districts and changing their areas of jurisdiction. (Press Release, Ministry of Justice of the Netherlands, A More Accessible Legal System (July 28, 2009), available at

Some highlights of the recent legislative proposal on legal accessibility are as follows.

  • The power of subdistrict courts to handle cases would be expanded, enabling them to hear cases involving amounts of up to €25,000 (about US$36,000) instead of the current €5,000, as well as disputes over consumer purchases and consumer credit. The Ministry believes this would facilitate citizens' submission to the courts of relatively simple cases and also enable them to require lawyers' services less often, because at the subdistrict court level it is permissible for cases to be argued by the parties themselves. According to the press release, moreover, “[t]he Cabinet considers it important that the Subdistrict Court's low-threshold, efficient and customer-friendly working method is structurally strengthened.” (Id.)
  • There would be more opportunities for cooperation between district courts and the courts of appeal, thereby increasing the legal system's efficiency.
  • The Council for the Judiciary, monitored by the Minister of Justice, would be authorized to designate subsidiary places of session; at present, all additional locations are listed in the relevant legislation. This would help better meet the need to guarantee the handling of general and frequent cases within all court districts, whereby another court within the same area of jurisdiction may take over a case in instances where a court lacks sufficient capacity for timely hearing of, e.g., mega cases or cases requiring specialized handling.
  • Adjustments would be made to the division of territorial jurisdictions to better balance the apportionment of the workload among the Courts of Appeal. The Netherlands has five such jurisdictions, comprising one or more provinces and numerous court districts included with the District Court, but with an uneven distribution of cases among the five. Each jurisdiction also has its own Court of Appeal. In particular, the redistribution would enlarge the Leeuwarden court district and reduce that of Amsterdam.
  • A procedure would be established to enable citizens to submit complaints to the Supreme Court about judges, supplemental to the option of having a complaint handled first by the court where the judge is active. (Id.)