In a publication in the Dutch Lawyers’ Journal (Nederlands Juristenblad) we call on the Dutch legislator to put on hold a series of recently proposed bills that would reform Dutch Civil Procedure. We believe that priority should instead be given to speeding up the turnaround time of cases and the introduction of digital communication with the courts (currently submissions are still made on paper).
Increasing the speed and ‘innovation’ of civil proceedings?
The proposed bills are aimed at simplifying and speeding up civil proceedings, and to allowing for more ‘innovation’ in adjudicating cases. We are doubtful that the proposals as they currently stand will have such effects. In our article, we explain why the envisaged reforms may in fact be counterproductive.
Modernization and simplification of law of evidence
For instance, the proposed bill for the “modernization and simplification” of the law of evidence introduces a general duty for parties to disclose and submit any information that may be relevant to the case. Such an obligation would amount to extensive discovery, a concept currently foreign to Dutch Civil Procedure. Aside from the costs associated with such discovery, it will certainly not help to speed up civil proceedings.
A second proposal currently under consideration by the legislator is the Experiments Bill. This bill would allow courts to deviate from Dutch Civil Procedure by way of ‘temporary experiment’. The objective is to enable the courts to test and evaluate procedural modifications that could speed up, ‘innovate’ or simplify civil proceedings. However, the proposal seems to take for granted that the principles of due process will be safeguarded – even though the experiments envisaged under this bill could interfere with the very core of these principles. In our opinion, such fundamental changes require further consideration, and should not be left to occasional experiments. We also question whether such experiments will in fact achieve the desired result of swifter and simpler adjudication of disputes.
Advice to the Dutch Minister of Justice
In conclusion, we advise the Minister of Justice to put these intended reforms on hold and focus on the organizational aspects of the civil litigation. Due to continuous budget cuts, the courts are currently understaffed and the system is backed up. If the government is serious about reducing turnaround times and allowing courts to implement made-to-measure case management procedures, it should increase the budget for the judiciary on a structural basis.