Dutch Judicial System
Criminal matters are dealt with in courts at
four levels (Hoyng, 1992: 7-8; Machielse, 1992:
108; Tak, 1993: 24-26; Netherlands Ministry of
Supreme Court. There is one Supreme Court of the
Netherlands. The Supreme Court hears appellate
court cases, cases in which the law has been
inappropriately applied, or cases in which there
has been a violation of due process or procedural
fairness. In addition, the Supreme Court may hear
cases at first instance concerning crimes
committed by senior government officials (such as
the heads of Ministries) when the offenses were
committed during the performance of their official
duties. (Tak, 1993: 25, 26).
Courts of Appeal. There are five Courts of Appeal
which hear appeals rendered against District Court
decisions. These courts may have additional
chambers that hear appeals or sometimes cases at
first instance in specific civil or tax matters.
District Courts. There are 19 District Courts.
Each district covers three or four cantons in the
Netherlands and handles both civil and criminal
matters. The District Court hears criminal cases
(misdrijven) at first instance. In complex cases,
or those in which the penalty may exceed 6 months
incarceration, a panel of three judges will sit.
In less serious matters, or those with a penalty
of less than 6 months incarceration, a single
judge, the “police magistrate” will pass
judgement. The police magistrate may waive the
case to a judicial panel if he or she deems it
appropriate. Nearly all economic and
environmental crimes are tried by a single judge.
The District Courts also serve as courts of appeal
for matters from the Cantonal Courts.(Tak, 1993:
Cantonal Courts. The 62 Cantonal Courts, handle
both civil and criminal matters of a nonserious
nature (overtredingen). A single judge passes
judgment in this court.
2. Special Courts.
At the District Court level there are special
judges to try two special types of offenses. A
Juvenile Court Magistrate tries all cases
concerning juveniles which come before the court.
Minor economic offenses are tried by the Economic
Police Magistrate, whereas more serious economic
offenses are tried by a judicial panel in the
District Courts. Additionally, the Military
Courts hear cases involving criminal offenses
committed by personnel in the military. (Oudhof,
1992: 28; Hoyng, 1992; 25).
* Number of judges. Five justices usually sit on
a panel of the Supreme Court. Where appropriate,
the bench may contain only three justices. A
panel on the Courts of Appeal may consist of
either three or five judges. The District Courts
differ greatly in size with the smallest District
Court having only 12 judges while the largest has
As of November 1, 1992, there were 1,211 full
time judges in the Netherlands of which 230 (19%)
were female. (Tak, 1993: 25).
* Appointment and qualifications. One can become
a judge through an “inside” or an “outside”
position. Immediately after completing a
university law degree, the applicant trains
“inside” the judiciary at a court or at the office
of the public prosecutor. The training takes 6
years, during which time the trainee gains
experience in the court, at a Public Prosecutor’s
Office, and outside of the court system at
the Bar. This apprenticeship period is followed by
2 years’ practical experience before the
individual can apply for a vacant post.
An “outsider” enters the profession after
having worked for at least 6 years in the law
field (private law firm, a university, or in the
Ministry of Justice.) Applicants seeking
judgeship appointments must appear before the
Committee for Recruitment of Members of the
Judiciary. The Committee consists of judges and
members of the community representing various
interests. Judges may remain in their position
until they reach the retirement age of 70 years.
(Netherlands Ministry of Justice, no date: 70;
Tak, 1993: 26; de Groot-van Leeuwen and Kester,
1991: 5; Netherlands Ministry of Justice, 1990a:
Criminal justice in the Netherlands is
administered only by the public prosecutors and
professional career judges. There are with very
limited exceptions no lay judges in the
Netherlands. One exceptions is in the military
division of the District Court and Court of
Appeal, where the defendant faces two professional
judges and one military lay judge. Another
exception is in the Court of Appeal at Arnhem,
penitentiary division, where the defendant facing
such penitentiary possibilities as the refusal of
early release faces a panel of three professional
judges and two experts in the behavioral sciences.
Note: this work was completed in 1993
- Criminal Justice
- Legal System
- Dutch Criminal Justice System
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- Fairchild, E. (1993), Comparative criminal justice systems. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
- Feeley, Malcolm M. (1973), “Two models of the criminal justice system”. Law and Society Review, 7(3): 407-425.