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Member State law - Netherlands

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This page provides you with information about the judicial system in the Netherlands.

In addition to the ministers, the Dutch government includes the King. To that extent, the Netherlands is something of an exception among the Western European monarchies, in most of which the monarch is not part of the government. Since the comprehensive review of the Constitution in 1848 the Netherlands has been a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system.


Legal sources

Types of legal instrument — description

The Constitution provides the framework for the organisation of the Dutch state and forms the basis for legislation. Treaties between the Netherlands and other states are a major source of law. Article 93 of the Constitution provides that provisions of treaties and decisions of international organisations may have direct effect in the Netherlands legal order. In that case, these provisions go beyond Dutch laws. Legal provisions in force within the Kingdom shall not be applicable if they are incompatible with those provisions. Therefore, the regulations of the European Union laid down in treaties, regulations and directives are a major source of law in the Netherlands.

The Statute for the Kingdom of the Netherlands governs the constitutional relations between the Netherlands, Aruba, Curaçao and Sint Maarten.

Laws are made at national level. Through a delegation by law, the central government can lay down rules in general terms of administration and in ministerial regulations (more detailed rules). Independent general administrative measures (not drawn from a law) are also possible. The Constitution confers regulatory authority upon the lower bodies under public law (provinces, municipalities and water boards).

Case law is a source of law, since the meaning of court decisions goes beyond the specific case for which the judgment was given. The rulings of higher courts serve as guidance. The judgments of the Hoge Raad are particularly authoritative since it is the task of that court to promote the unity of the law. In new cases, therefore, the lower court will consider a ruling of the Supreme Court when reaching judgment.

General principles of law are of relevance to government and the dispensation of justice. Sometimes the law refers to general principles of law, such as the Civil Code (reasonableness and fairness). The court can also draw inspiration from general principles of law.

Customary law, also referred to as unwritten law, is an additional source of law. In principle, the practice applies only if the law refers to it, but it is also true that the court is in a position to take account of the practice in the case of conflicts in its judgment. When establishing offences, customary law cannot be a source of law (Article 16 of the Constitution).

Hierarchy of norms

The Constitution states, with Article 94, that some international rules of law have the highest hierarchy: legal provisions which are incompatible with these rules of international law do not apply. European law itself takes precedence over national law. This is followed by the Charter, the Constitution and Acts of Parliament. These rank above other regulations. The adoption of formal laws is carried out jointly by the government and the States General.

It is also stipulated that a law may wholly or partially lose its effect only as a result of a subsequent law. There is also a general rule of interpretation that special laws go beyond general laws. The law in the continental tradition is also a higher legal source than the case law.

Institutional framework

The authorities responsible for adopting legal provisions

The legislative process

Laws are jointly adopted by the government and the States General. Legislative proposals can be submitted by the government or the Lower House of the States General. The Council of State advises on legislative proposals, as well as on orders in council. Other stakeholders are generally consulted when a legislative proposal is being prepared.

In many cases the Council of Ministers adopts a legislative proposal and sends it to the Advisory Division of the Council of State. The government responds to that recommendation by drawing up a further report. Then, the government sends the legislative proposal — with any necessary amendments — to the Lower House by Royal Message. The proposal may be amended while it is being debated by the Lower House. The House of Representatives has the right of amendment. Once it has been accepted by the Lower House, the Upper House debates the proposal. The Eerste Kamer may only adopt or reject the bill. Changes are no longer possible. Upon acceptance by the Upper House, the King and the Minister sign the legal text, whereupon the law enters into force.

Legal databases

Link opens in new windowOverheid.nl is the central access point for all information about the government organisations of the Netherlands. This includes access to national and local laws and regulations.

You can Link opens in new windowfind official publications from the Official Gazette, the Government Gazette (Staatscourant) and the Tractatenblad (Official Gazette). You can also find all the publications of the Dutch Parliament.

Is access to the database free of charge?

Access to the websites shall be free of charge.

Related Links

Link opens in new windowCentral Government

Link opens in new windowGovernment

Link opens in new windowMinistry of Foreign Affairs

Link opens in new windowLower House

Link opens in new windowGovernment.nl

Link opens in new windowHouseofrepresatives.en


This is a machine translated version of the content. The owner of this page accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever with regard to the quality of this machine translated text.

Last update: 24/10/2019