UPDATE: Researching Dutch Law

By Oswald Jansen

Update by Angélique Bessems

Mrs. Angélique Bessems holds a LL.M Master of Law Degree in Dutch law and is working for the Maastricht University Library as a specialist Legal Scientific Information & Skills Support. She is also an active member, secretary, of the Juridische Bibliothecarissen Overleg (JUBO), the Dutch Association of University Law Libraries.

Published January/February 2020

(Previously updated by Dorien Snoek and Henk Zonnevald in September/October 2007 and in July/August 2012; and by Dorien Snoek in July/August 2017)

See the Archive Version!

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, 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 King and his ministries. 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 Parliament.

The government is comprised of over 1,600 organizations and bodies, including 12 ministries, 12 Provinces and, as of January 2019, 355 municipalities (Dutch: gemeenten) plus 3 special municipalities (bijzondere gemeenten). 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 organizations 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 (Handelingen, Kamerstukken, en Kamervragen) are available as of 1-1-95 at Overheid.nl. Historical documents of the Dutch Parliament between 1814-1995 are digitally available and accessible through ‘Zoeken in historische publicaties’, formerly known as Staten-Generaal Digitaal, and part of Overheid.nl.

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:

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. In addition, this appeals tribunal also rules on appeals for specific laws, such as the Competition Act and the Telecommunications Act.

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 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 Supreme Court has accepted the supremacy of European law in 2004 when it handed down a judgment in a case concerning the impact of Regulation 3280/85/EEC on criminal law (HR 02-11-2004, ECLI:NL:HR:2004:AR1797, m.nt. E.A. Alkema). Since then, the autonomous implementation of European law has been the starting point for the Netherlands. [Altena, J.G.H., Het legaliteitsbeginsel en de doorwerking van Europees recht in het Nederlandse materiële strafrecht, 2016-09-22]. 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 in:

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).

The Acts of Parliament may delegate legislative power to lower public authorities, such as the Cabinet (the Queen and all Ministers, also called the ‘Crown’; Article 45 Con.), a Minister (Article 43 and 44 Con.), a State Secretary (Article 46 Con.) and the Mayor or Municipal Council. Laws issued by a Minister or State Secretary are called ‘algemene maatregel van bestuur’ (‘Orders in Council’; Article 89 Con.) or ministeriële regelingen (‘Ministerial Regulations’). Laws made by a province or municipality are called Verordeningen ('Provincial Ordinance' or 'Municipal Ordinance'), and those made by Water Boards are called Keuren.

Free Internet Services: Examples (in Dutch) of various forms of legislation can be found at Overheid.nl, the Dutch government's internet portal. Wet-en Regelgeving (Legal and Regulatory Framework) is the legal sub-site of this portal. It is managed by SDU Uitgevers, a private company, and falls under the responsibility of the finance ministry. The site Wet-en Regelgeving gives users access to consolidated texts of Dutch laws that have been in force or repealed since 1 May 2002. The consolidated texts available on Wet-en Regelgeving are not official texts. Only those texts published in official journals (Staatsblad for laws, Staatscourant for regulations) and by state authorities have official status. Publications from 1 January 1995 in the Staatsblad and the Staatscourant are available online. Before 1995, the Staatsblad can be found digitally via Delpher. Digital versions of the Staatscourant can, up to 1950, also be found on Delpher. 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


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

Medical Law

Copyright 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. This is also the case for the Legal Journals Index (LJI), part of Westlaw's database. This index provides citations to articles in over 800 legal journals published in the United Kingdom and other European countries from 1986 to the present. The index covers topics pertaining to the laws of the European Union and its member states. Citations include abstracts and links to the full text of the article and referenced cases when available.

3.3. Internet Resources

3.4. Law Dictionaries



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