UPDATE: Researching Dutch Law

By Oswald Jansen
Update by Dorien Snoek

Dorien Snoek is subject librarian for private law, constitutional- and administrative law and legal history at the Utrecht University Library. She also instructs academic staff and students in information research methodology.

Published July/August 2017

(Previously updated by Dorien Snoek and Henk Zonnevald in Sept./Oct. 2007 and in July/Aug. 2012)

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1. The Dutch Legal System

1.1 Kingdom of the Netherlands

The Kingdom of the Netherlands (Koninkrijk der Nederlanden) was founded in 1813. It was part of France from 1795 until 1813, before 1795, the greater part of the current territory was governed by a confederation of sovereign provinces (Republiek der Verenigde Nederlanden).

Since 1814 there has been a hereditary monarchy, occupied in turn by Kings William I, William II and William III, followed by the Princess Regent Emma and Queens Wilhelmina, Juliana, Beatrix and King Willem-Alexander.

Some former colonies (the Dutch Caribbean) are still part of the Kingdom. From October 2010, the Kingdom consists of four countries: Aruba, Curacao, St. Maarten and the Netherlands and three public entities associated with the Netherlands: Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba (BES islands). These BES islands are in terms of legislation and practical functioning much like Dutch municipalities. For more general information about the legal system of the Dutch Caribbean, see the Dutch Caribbean Legal Portal.

1.2 Government

The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy. The head of state is the monarch (king or queen), who must adhere to the Constitution. The Constitution lays down that the ministers, but not the monarch, are responsible for government policy. The monarch is therefore not accountable to the parliament.

The government of the Netherlands consists of the Queen and her ministers. The ministers in the government and the state secretaries form the Cabinet. The Cabinet governs the country and carries out policy. The Cabinet is regulated by the Parliament.

Government comprises over 1,600 organisations and bodies, including 11 ministries, 12 Provinces and 388 Municipalities. It also includes autonomous administrative authorities, such as police regions and chambers of commerce, the water authorities and public bodies for industry and the professions. At the same time, many organisations that we might assume form part of government are in private hands. They include health insurance funds, boards of private schools and benefit agencies such as the UWV (Employee Insurance Agency).

1.3 Parliament

The Netherlands is a parliamentary democracy, and parliament therefore has the last word. The Dutch Parliament is called 'the States General'. It consists of two chambers: the directly elected House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer) and indirectly elected Senate (Eerste Kamer). Together they constitute the legislative assembly.

The House of Representatives is the more powerful of the two. This is where government coalitions are formed and collapse, and where ministers must come to defend their policies. No minister or government can survive a vote of no confidence in the House of Representatives.

Parliamentary documents (Kamerstukken en Handelingen) are available as from 1-1-95 at the website Overheid.nl and before that (1814-1995) at the website StatenGeneraaldigitaal.

1.4 Court System

General information about the Dutch Judiciary and the Supreme Court of the Netherlands can be found on the website Rechtspraak.nl.

The Dutch judicial system consists of the following organisations:

District Courts (Rechtbanken): The Netherlands is divided into eleven districts, each with its own court.

Courts of Appeal (Gerechtshoven): The eleven districts are divided into four areas of Court of Appeal jurisdiction: The Hague and Amsterdam in the west, Arnhem-Leeuwarden in the east and north and 's-Hertogenbosch in the south.

As the highest court in the fields of civil, criminal and tax law, the Supreme Court (Hoge Raad) is responsible for hearing appeals in cassation and for a number of specific tasks which are charged by law.

There are three special tribunals in the Netherlands that are competent in specific areas of administrative law:

Central Appeals Tribunal (Centrale Raad van Beroep) which is mainly active in legal areas pertaining to social security and the civil service.

Trade and Industry Appeals Tribunal (College van beroep voor het bedrijfsleven) also known as Administrative High Court for Trade and Industry, is a specialized court which rules on disputes in the area of social-economic administrative law.

Council of State Administrative Jurisdiction Division (Raad van State-Afdeling Bestuursrechtspraak) is the highest general administrative court in the Netherlands. It hears appeals lodged by members of the public or companies against decisions or orders given by municipal, provincial or central government. Disputes may also arise between two public authorities.

1.5 The Effect of European and International Law

In the famous Costa-Enel case (6/64), the Court of Justice of the European Community has ruled that European law is an integral part of the national legal system of the EC member countries and takes precedence over national law. Therefore, one cannot fully ascertain the applicable law without researching the relevant European law. The Eur-Lex database contains, inter alia, all Community legislation in force.

Another judicial institution, which is increasingly influencing Dutch law, is the European Court of Human Rights, the judicial organ of the European Convention on Human Rights.

More information can be found in James Hart's The European Human Rights System and Sophie Lobey's The Council of Europe on GlobaLex.

As to the effect of general public international law in the Dutch legal order one has to look at articles 93 and 94 of the Constitution. These articles provide for the direct effect (self-execution) of provisions of treaties and of resolutions of international organisations if they are binding on all persons by virtue of their contents. When the Dutch judge rules that such a provision has direct effect, a citizen can invoke the provision in his case and the provision will then prevail over conflicting Dutch law. The question of direct effect is well explained by Brölmann and Vierdag in their contribution to The Integration of International and European Community Law into the National Legal Order. A Study of the Practice in Europe, edited by Eisemann, The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 1996, pp. 433-459.

2. Sources of Law

2.1 Legislation

The most important form of legislation is the legislation made by the central government in cooperation with the parliament: wetgeving in formele zin (acts of parliament).

Lower forms of legislation are rules made by other agencies that belong to central government, such as algemene maatregel van bestuur (orders in council) and ministeriële regelingen (ministerial regulations); by the representative organs of provinces (these rules are called Verordeningen), water boards (these rules are called Keuren) and municipalities (these rules are called Verordeningen), by agencies or other public bodies.

Free Internet Services

Examples (in Dutch) of various forms of legislation can be found at Overheid.nl. Acts of parliament (wetten) and Orders in council (algemene maatregelen van bestuur) are officially published in the Staatsblad (Official Gazette) and ministerial regulations (ministeriele regelingen) in the Staatscourant (Government Gazette). Treaties, to which the Netherlands is a party, are officially published from 1951 in the Tractatenblad (Bulletin of Treaties).

Paid Subscriptions

The collected texts of legislation are also available in:

English Translations (Printed)

English Translations (Internet)

2.2 Case Law

Free Internet Services

Paid Subscriptions

The main Dutch law reports are Nederlandse Jurisprudentie (NJ), Administratiefrechtelijke Beslissingen (AB), Kort Geding (KG) and Rechtspraak van de Week (RvdW). These are both available in print format and online published by Kluwer.

SDU also publishes several law reports, devoted to specialized branches. These reports are published in both print format and in the online database OpMaat

English Translations

English translations of Dutch case law are scarce. There are a few periodicals however, which publish English summaries of case law:

3. Legal Resources and References

3.1 Law journals (open access)

3.2 Publications of Introduction to Dutch Law

General

Civil Law

Family Law

Law of Obligations

Private International Law

Commercial Law

Tax Law

Economic Law

Constitutional and Administrative Law

Criminal Law

Labor and Social Security Law

Environmental Law

In addition, both the Index to Legal Periodicals and the Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (available in paper edition and online database) contain many references to journal articles, dealing with Dutch legal issues.

3.3 Internet Resources

3.4 Law Dictionaries


English

Multilingual

3.5 Citation

The Leidraad voor juridische auteurs 2016 contains guidelines on how to cite Dutch legislation, case law, parliamentary documents and literature.

4. Law Schools and the Legal Profession

4.1 Law Schools

4.2 Legal Profession