Legal professions - Netherlands
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This page provides an overview of the legal professions in the Netherlands.
The Public Prosecution Service (Openbaar Ministerie, or OM) is a national organisation with offices in all regions. there is also a national Public Prosecutor’s Office that focuses on combating (international) organised crime, and a Functional Public Prosecutor’s Office to combat environmental and financial crime and fraud.
There are 10 district prosecutor’s offices, where public prosecutors, assisted by administrative and legal experts, handle several hundred thousand cases a year. If an appeal is lodged, the case will be referred to one of the four regional prosecutor’s offices. The OM’s representative at these offices is called the advocate-general or Advocaat-Generaal. Chief Public Prosecutors and chief advocates-general are in charge of these offices. At national level the OM is governed by the Board of Procurators General (College van Procureurs-generaal) in The Hague. Political responsibility for the OM lies with the Minister of Justice. Together with the Board of Procurators General, he or she decides on priorities for investigation and prosecution.
Role and tasks
Anyone who is suspected of committing a criminal offence will have to deal with the OM. The OM is the only body in the Netherlands that can bring suspects to trial. It ensures that criminal offences are investigated and prosecutions brought.
It works in collaboration with the police and other investigation services. The Public Prosecutor is in charge of investigations. The OM also oversees the proper enforcement of court rulings; fines must be paid, prison sentences served, and community service carried out. Together with the judges, the Public Prosecutor is part of the judiciary. The OM is therefore not a Ministry in the usual sense of the word at all.
Anyone wishing to become a judge must have a number of years of professional experience. More information on the requirements can be found here. Professional experience can be gained through in-house training within the judiciary or elsewhere in the judicial system. The judiciary system provides the necessary training.
Judges are appointed by the Crown under the responsibility of the Minister of Justice and Security. Only Dutch nationals can be appointed to the office of judge. Candidates must hold a law degree from a Dutch university.
Individuals can be nominated for appointment to the judiciary only on recommendation by a national selection committee, made up of members from the various courts, the public prosecutor’s office and individuals active in society.
A judge is appointed to administer justice at a specific court. Such an appointment can take place only if the court in question nominates the prospective judge. These conditions are designed to make the appointment system as objective as possible.
The judge is a government official with special status. Following the appointment, the judge may not accept an appointment elsewhere. Judges can remain in office until the age of 70. Before that, they can be removed from office against their will only by the highest court in the Netherlands, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands (Hoge Raad der Nederlanden), at the instigation of the procurator general (procureur-general) of this court.
Role and tasks
It is the task of the judge to make a pure judgement in legal disputes, including cases to which the public authorities are parties. In order to ensure impartiality with regard to the administration, a special selection and appointment system is in place. Hence the legal status of judges differs from that of other government officials.
The Dutch Constitution requires judges to rule on disputes and contains provisions on the legal status of members of the judiciary.
Guided by the prevailing legislation, judges may, at their discretion, hear cases. They also determine, to a large extent, the practical progress of proceedings (for instance, the length of certain parts of the proceedings).
There are several statutory provisions governing the behaviour of judges. their purpose is to guarantee that judges do their work impartially. If a party to the proceedings has doubts as to the impartiality of the judge, the law gives him or her the opportunity to raise objections against the investigating judge. Sometimes, one party to a lawsuit is dissatisfied with the work of the judge. Here a distinction is made between the decision handed down by the court and the behaviour of the judge.
- If the dissatisfaction relates to the judgment, the party complaining usually has the option of lodging an appeal;
- Complaints about the behaviour of a judge may be filed with the board of the court where the judge in question holds office. Every court has a complaints procedure that sets out the rules on dealing with complaints.
Judges must gain expertise in at least two fields. As a general rule, they deal with a case in a particular area of law and then switch to another jurisdiction. This rule is designed to prevent judges from focusing for too long and too much on one area of expertise.
Judges work in district courts (rechtbanken). These include at least four sectors: the civil-law sector, the criminal-law sector, the administrative-law sector and the sub-district court sector. Judges working in the latter sector are called kantonrechter, the others are referred to as rechter. The judges working in the courts of appeal and the Supreme Court are called raadsheer.
The composition of the courts when hearing cases is as follows:
- Cantonal Judges shall be single Judges.
- District court judges usually hear cases on their own, but some cases must be heard by a three-judge panel.
- Judges in the courts of appeal hear cases with a panel of three, except where such a case can be heard by one judge. The rules for this are laid down in the Law (Judicial Organisation Act).
- The Supreme Court hears every case with five judges.
The Council for the Judiciary is responsible for the rules governing the profession.
More information can be found on the publicly available judicial website in the Netherlands.
Organisation of the legal professions
The Dutch Bar Association ( the Orde) is the public law professional body of all lawyers in the Netherlands. The statutorily-regulated core activity of the Bar is to oversee the quality of services by advocates. That quality shall be ensured, inter alia, by:
- Comprehensive training programme for the legal profession
- Drafting regulations and other binding rules for lawyers
- Disciplinary proceedings
- Information and services to the members
- Advising the Dutch Government on policy intentions and draft laws
By law, an advocate must become a member of the Bar. There are currently over 18.000 registered lawyers.
There is no centralised body regulating these professions.
Role and tasks
The law makes a notarial act compulsory for a number of contracts and legal acts. The most important are:
- Conveying real property in the Netherlands,
- Creating or cancelling mortgages,
- Incorporating public or private limited liability companies (NVs and BVs) or altering their articles of association,
- Establishing foundations or associations (including cooperatives) or altering their constitution,
- Drawing up, altering and executing wills,
- Drawing up or altering marriage contracts and registered domestic partnership agreements,
- Transferring registered shares,
- Providing for gifts and donations in a notarial instrument.
For practical reasons, a notary often also performs other types of legal transactions and may draft other kinds of agreement. These include, for example, partnership agreements (commercial, civil and limited partnerships), agreements between cohabitees and provisions to protect private limited liability companies from third parties
Other legal professions
The Royal Professional Organisation of Judicial Officers (KBvG) is governed by the Judicial Enforcement Act. This gives the KBvG — which all judicial officers in The Netherlands are required to join — the task of fostering good practice within the profession.
Dutch bailiffs are responsible for receiving and transmitting documents in line with EU Regulation No 1393/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 November 2007 on the service in the Member States of judicial and extrajudicial documents in civil or commercial matters. Documents to be served in the Netherlands must be sent directly to one of its judicial officers. Requests for this service must be submitted in Dutch or in English. It is not possible to send such a request to the Dutch central body, the Royal Professional Organisation of Judicial Officers. The assistance of this organisation may be sought only in the exceptional circumstances referred to in Article 3(c) of the above-mentioned EU Regulation.
Pro bono legal services
For first-line legal advice, you can contact one of the offices of the Legal Service. Here you can request clarification on legal matters, information and advice. This is the first port of call in the provision of legal aid.
If necessary, you will be referred to a private lawyer or mediator, who acts as the secondary line of legal aid.
All information services at the Legal Services Desks are free of charge. These are provided either on the spot or as part of a consultation. You can contact these Desks with problems concerning civil, administrative, criminal and immigration law.
A total of 44 Legal Services Desks have been established. they have been evenly set up geographically, so that every Dutch citizen is within easy reach of legal services.
For further information, see the website of the Legal Service.
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Last update: 24/11/2020