By Oswald Jansen
Update by Dorien Snoek and Henk Zonneveld
Oswald Jansen is senior lecturer and senior researcher at the Department of Constitutional and Administrative law of the University of Utrecht. His research interest in (public) law enforcement involves Dutch as well as foreign (mainly European) administrative law, Dutch as well as foreign (mainly European) criminal law and European law. He is also legal advisor (Juridisch bestuursadviseur) and lawyer (advocaat) at the Municipality of The Hague.
Dorien Snoek is reference librarian for private law, constitutional- and administrative law and legal history at the Utrecht University Library. Henk Zonneveld is reference librarian for international public law, European law and economics at the Utrecht University Library.
Both of them also instruct academic staff and students in information research methodology.
Published July/August 2012
(Updated previously in 2007 by Dorien Snoek and
See the Archive Version
Table of Contents
1.4 Court system
2.2 Case Law
3.4 Law dictionaries
4.1 Law Schools
4.2 Legal profession
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 and Beatrix.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 can roughly be divided into two subsystems: the general system and the administrative law system.
The Supreme Court in the general system is the Hoge Raad (Supreme Court); it deals with matters of criminal law, tax law as well as private law. The lower courts are the kantongerechten (courts for petty offences and matters of relatively small importance), the rechtbanken (district courts) and the gerechtshoven (courts of appeal).
The administrative law system has a few supreme courts: the Raad van State (Council of State)-Afdeling bestuursrechtspraak (Administrative Jurisdiction Division) , the Centrale Raad van Beroep (the Central appeals tribunal) mainly dealing with social security and civil servants matters and the College van beroep voor het bedrijfsleven (Trade and Industry Appeals Tribunal) dealing with matters of trade and economic administrative law.
The Hoge Raad has administrative law tasks as well (the chamber on criminal matters deals with punitive administrative law matters; tax law is considered a form of administrative law). The courts of first instance in administrative law are the rechtbanken. In tax matters the gerechtshoven are courts of first instance, in some matters of economic administrative law only the Rotterdam rechtbank is court of first instance.
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 Ann Burnett's Guide to Researching the Council of Europe 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.
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.
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).
The collected texts of legislation are also available in:
English translations (internet)
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.
English translations of Dutch case law are scarce. There are a few periodicals however, which publish English summaries of case law:
Law of Obligations
Private International Law
Constitutional and Administrative Law
· Constitutional law of the Netherlands / by Leonard F.M. Besselink. Nijmegen : Ars Aequi, 2004, ISBN 9069165333
· Constitutional law of the Netherlands : an introduction / by Constantijn Kortmann and Paul Bovend’Eert. Alphen aan den Rijn : Kluwer Law International, 2007, ISBN 9789041126337
· Implementation of the Rome statute in the Netherlands / by A. Cinar and S. van Niekerk (2007)
· Kingdom of the Netherlands: Charter and Constitution / by Leonard F.M. Besselink. Nijmegen : Ars Aequi, 2004, ISBN 9069165309
· The Kingdom of the Netherlands / by C.A.J.M. Kortmann; in: Constitutional law of the 15 EU member states. Deventer : Kluwer, 2004, ISBN 9013012558, pp. 590-650
· Nationality law of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in international perspective / by G.R. de Groot and C. Bollen (2004)
· The Netherlands Constitution 1848-1998: historical reflections / by J.W. Sap. Utrecht : Lemma, 2000 ISBN 90-5189-872-X
· The Netherlands: fundamental structures of the constitution of the Netherlands / by Leonard F.M. Besselink (2006)
Labor and Social Security 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.
The Leidraad voor juridische auteurs contains guidelines how to cite Dutch legislation, case law, parliamentary documents and literature.