What if you see a runaway train moving toward five people tied-up on a track. Would you pull a lever to redirect the train to another track? Yes, of course. No doubt about it. But what if there was another person tied-up on the other track? The decision whether to pull the handle or not becomes inevitably harder. This famous philosophical conundrum applies in a similar, yet – fortunately – less gruesome way, to the European Court of Human Rights. The backlog in cases, the failure of states to implement the Court’s judgments, the increasingly harsh (political) criticism on the Court, and the shortage of resources have put a strain on the proper functioning of the European Convention on Human Rights’ system. This has given rise to the question of whether the Court should continue to provide justice to each applicant, possibly at the cost of the Convention system (track one), or whether it should focus on providing general justice, by ensuring justice for as many individuals as possible, even when it may come at the cost of the applicants before the Court (track two). This dilemma between individual and general justice is also relevant for the Court’s recent procedural turn… Continue reading
The division of power between the legislator – represented by ‘the political’ – and the judge – represented by ‘the legal’ – is a centuries-old dilemma. The question on which position both powers take in the constitutional context is an everyday reality for the (constitutional) lawyer. The balance between these powers often turns into a tense relationship – a tension that becomes especially tangible after courts important judgments, such as the Urgenda case. Cases seem increasingly to end up in court because politicians have no answer to the issues at hand. If in such a case a court makes a decision, then politicians are eager to emphasise that the court has illegitimately taken up the role of the democratically elected legislator and that it is up to the people to make a decision; not the court. The question, however, is whether this criticism is always justified. Do politicians indeed try to protect the institutional balance as set out in the Constitution? Or do they act as sore losers, looking for a scapegoat for their own failure? Continue reading
This blog considers whether unity of law should be strived for in the EU law remedy of the duty of consistent interpretation and, if so, how this could be achieved. I explain why it is necessary to differentiate between the national and the EU level when addressing this question. I argue that unity of law is not a pie in the sky on the EU level but that, on account of differences in the national methods of interpretation, the degree of unity will probably not be the same on the national and the EU level. To conclude this blog, I suggest three ideas to achieve a high degree of unity in the application of the duty of consistent interpretation on the national level, and that the Dutch could perhaps learn something from the Germans in this respect.
Writing something about the Urgenda judgement (Rechtbank Den Haag 24 June 2015, ECLI:NL:RBDHA:2015:7145) might seem abundant at this point. After all, a lot of literature about the judgement has already been published. Is the judgement really so special? That can, with good reason, not be denied.
The Urgenda Foundation is the organisation for sustainability and innovation which aims to together with companies, governments, civil organisations and individuals, make the Netherlands sustainable more quickly. This foundation has filed a civil case against the State, because according the foundation while the government has recognized the urgency of the climate problems, it has taken insufficient action to prevent dangerous climate change. In the Urgenda judgement the State, on the basis of the standard of due care observed in society as set out in article 6:162 of the Dutch Civil Code, is subject to a periodic penalty payment ordered to reduce the annual greenhouse gas emissions by 2010 by at least 25 percent compared to the 1990 levels. The relevant international provisions for the case cannot be relied on at law at the national judge, in the sense that they are unsuitable to be directly applicable as positive law in the national legal system and they are therefore not binding on all persons as provided in articles 93 and 94 of the Dutch Constitutions. However, the court applies the so-called consequential effect. The latter means that the court, in applying the national open standards, such as the standard of due care observed in society, takes into account international provisions that are not binding on all persons as provided in articles 93 and 94 of the Dutch Constitution.
A few weeks ago, a journalist announced on VGNyhetter, a major Norwergian news website, that 19 Norwegian judges have heard cases in which insurance companies were parties, while the judges had shares in these insurance companies. The journalists Frank Haugsbø and Geir Olsenen have skilfully embroidered their story, including stories from the parties who lost those cases. Those parties now, of course, say that they could have saved a lot of money and effort, or that they would have challenged the judges if they would have known. The question is whether they would have received a different judgement then. Continue reading
In Dutch administrative law, a familiar view entails that the administrative court should not ‘occupy the chair of the executive’. By virtue of its powers, the government would have a ‘discretionary latitude of decision’ in which it is only under democratic control; insofar as it is not a matter of a ‘criminal charge’ there is only space for judicial review beyond the ‘edges’ of the administrative domain. In literature the ‘marginal test’ encounters increasing criticism. Many advocate that the Dutch administrative review of proportionality should align itself to EU law and German law, in which judicial control on proportional weighing of interests has a broader significance. The ever ongoing ‘withdrawal of the legislature’ would require a more sophisticated and nuanced approach whereby the judge can intensify his review in cases in which there is no punitive decision, but nonetheless a breach of important interests or fundamental rights. In addition to the literature, the courts are tending towards a broader review of proportionality. Apart from the question whether there was a ‘criminal charge’, the Administrative Law Division recently ended the so-called ‘alcolock programme'; upon application of that regulation it considered a proportionate weighing of interests ‘insufficiently guaranteed’ (ABRvS 4 maart 2015, AB 2015). Continue reading
Judges in the Netherlands are rebelling against the endless series of changes in the organization of the judiciary. What is occurring is more than a simple merger; the organization has become too dominant in the judges’ work.
Judges do substantive work. They give judgments in other people’s disputes. To be able to do that work well they must be properly educated and trained. High demands are imposed on judges. Judges’ work is very diverse. The work of a family-court judge is usually content-wise less difficult than the work of commercial court judge. But where the commercial court judge can immerse himself in a difficult legal puzzle, the family-court judge must be able to deal with strong emotions and accommodate them during a hearing. With the internationalization and the Europeanization of the law, the judicial tasks have become more difficult substantively. This is the case in all legal areas. The Council for the Judiciary was installed to lead the necessary changes within the judges’ work in the right direction. It appears that now the Ministry of Security and Justice and the Council for the Judiciary have overplayed their hand in relation to the judges. Continue reading
As fits a centre of research on judicial administration, earlier blogs have dealt with urgent questions about the adherence to the rule of law and the functioning of the judiciary in the Netherlands. The topic of pre-trial detention combines all those questions. Here the politics of safety, the politicization of constitutional guarantees (Brenninkmeijer, ‘Stresstest rechtsstaat Nederland’, NJB 2015, afl. 16, p. 1049), and public opinion exert a particular problematic influence on the independence of the judiciary, which should guarantee critical review of pre-trial detention and the presumption of innocence. Continue reading
As was proved yet again last week in the Second Chamber, there is great interest in the budget cuts made to the legal aid system. And rightly so, because this ultimately concerns the quality of the rule of law. In the past few years the government has taken various measures which affect the access to justice. This has led to public debates on several fronts. The First Chamber organised an expert meeting on the 4th of February 2014 with authoritative legal experts and subsequently organised a debate on the 11th of March 2014 about the current state of the rule of law. What became extremely apparent from the expert meeting and the debate is that a widespread feeling exists that the quality of the rule of law in the Netherlands is currently under pressure. The concerns on the access to justice are illustrated by the various motions that were carried by the First Chamber. In January of this year it became clear that state secretary Teeven wanted to continue the cuts in the legal aid budget despite the critique from the First Chamber. In February 2015 the government decided that the former mayor of Utrecht, Wolfsen, should be chairman of the committee that is currently researching the rise in costs of the subsidized legal aid. Continue reading
The provincial elections were considered a test case for the current cabinet, since the provincial councils also elect the Senate of the Dutch Parliament. The elections were accompanied by a debate on whether we should get rid of the Dutch Senate. Politicians from one of the coalition parties pleaded for the abolition of the Senate, because the Senate can block legislative bills from becoming law. Seeing as the indirect election of this body does not run simultaneously with the election of the House of Representatives, coalition governments with a majority in the House of Representatives, may have to deal with minority support in the Senate. This can be inconvenient for the parties supporting the government in the House of Representatives. The entire idea of checks and balances between different state bodies in order to counterbalance the exercise of government power, however, seems to be an alien concept to those debaters. They also do not seem to care much about the quality of representative democracy, as they only want to have a more efficient decision making process for the majority. Instead of discussing more efficient decision making at the detriment of effective voting rights of citizens, we should focus on how we can reinforce the democratic position of citizens. Continue reading