In the Netherlands most cases begin in the district court (“rechtbank”). Appeals against decisions of the district court can be heard at one of the four high courts (“gerechtshof”). Above the high courts is the supreme court, the High Council of the Netherlands (“Hoge Raad”)
In the Netherlands, “summary proceedings” is a popular procedure intended to quickly provide clarity regarding legal disputes. Just as in other countries, court cases can take a long time in the Netherlands, but that is not the case in summary proceedings.
Dutch civil procedural law
From 2018 a new basic civil procedure that can be carried out entirely digitally will be introduced in the Netherlands. The exchange of paper submissions will become a thing of the past. The basic procedure will comprise of an introductory summary, followed by a counterclaim and a hearing in court. There are some variants to the basic procedure applicable to more complex matters. The distinction between summons procedures and petitions will fade. Nevertheless, courtroom technique and procedural law will remain of great importance after this modernization. In court hearings the knowledge, experience and strategy of the advocate, such as, for example, the manner in which evidence is presented, can make the difference between winning and losing. Presentation of evidence by means of witnesses is possible in the Netherlands, but in practice is less frequently used than in Anglosaxon countries.
The Dutch judiciary
In the Netherlands most cases begin in the district court (“rechtbank”). District courts have separate divisions for family matters, trade matters, criminal cases and cases against the authorities (bestuursrecht). The division treating rental disputes, labor law and monetary claims up to an amount of € 25.000 is called the cantonal division (“kanton”). Appeals against decisions of the district court can be heard at one of the four high courts (“gerechtshof”). Above the high courts is the supreme court, the High Council of the Netherlands (“Hoge Raad”). This court also functions as the highest court of the Caribbean countries Curaçao, Sint Maarten and Aruba and the islands of Saba, Sint Eustatius and Bonaire. In the Netherlands the supreme court only determines whether the lower court has correctly applied the law. A debate over the relevant facts of the case is no longer possible in the supreme court. Thus, if it is a matter of establishing the facts or production of evidence, in the Netherlands appeals can be lodged only once, not twice.
Another area in which Dutch legal practice differs from some other countries is the recognition that not all contractual relationships are equal. In certain jurisdictions protective provisions apply that serve the interests of the financially weaker party. An example of this is rental law. Only a judge can terminate a rental contract, and then only in a limited number of cases, ensuring that the tenant is well protected against termination of the rental. The downside of this legislation is that real estate owners are less flexible.
International civil law
When we litigate for foreign clients in the Dutch courts, the rules of international civil law play a role. This area of the law takes as its source Dutch legislation and international agreements to which the Netherlands is a signatory. These sources provide the answer to the question of whether a Dutch court is competent to take the case. Then there is the question as to which legal system should be applied. Sometimes the parties have established this in advance in an agreement. In other cases the law determines whether an agreement, Dutch law or another justice system is applicable.
Enforcement of foreign judgments in the Netherlands
The Netherlands has entered into agreements with many countries, both within and outside the European Union, on the grounds of which judgments are recognized and can be enforced. Countries with which the Netherlands has no such agreement can nevertheless apply to a Dutch court for judgments to be recognized. The foreign judgment must not be in contravention of Dutch public order. An example of this is recognition of a repudiation (a divorce under Islamic sharia law, in which not the judge, but the husband can effectuate the divorce).