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  JUDICIAL SYSTEMS
Evaluation scheme

To face the crisis in the Netherlands

On 30 September 2010 the new coalition government Rutte-Verhagen presented its strategic action programme Freedom and Responsibility. It announced a budget cut in public expenditures of 18 billion Euros to be carried out between 2011 and 2015. This is nearly 10 percent of the total budget of Dutch national government. In 2011, the budget for the judiciary was 935 million Euros and for legal aid, it amounted to 482 million Euros. These budgets have continued to rise in the last decades. Several measures are introduced to keep the budget in control as well as to improve and innovate within the Dutch judicial system.

1. Cost-covering court fees

The strategic programme states: “The judicial organisation will in 2013 be funded by those who use them. People with low incomes will be compensated.” This measure applies to administrative and civil litigation. It does not concern child, asylum and penal cases. Cost-covering court fees break new ground in the judicial system. Courts will be encouraged to introduce simple and efficient proceedings. It is presumed that citizens will be more critical before deciding to initiate court proceedings and will consider alternatives for achieving Justice. It is estimated that cost-covering fees will reduce the number of cases by 10 to 20 percent, which, in fact, will lead to a cost reduction of 115 million Euros. The additional income drawn from court fees are equivalent to approximately 225 million Euros. This will lead ultimately to a surplus of 340 million Euros compared to the current budget. To prevent people with low incomes from being restricted access to the judiciary, the legal aid budget will be raised by 100 million Euros.

2. Revising the judicial map
The judicial map of the Netherlands in the near future will in essence contain only ten districts, four courts of appeal and the Supreme Court. The courts will adjudicate in over 30 locations throughout the Netherlands. An administrative and organizational scale-up and not budgetary targets was the purpose of revising the judicial map. Thus, better opportunities for specialization and a more customer-oriented differentiation will be created for the courts. The revision is not restricted to the judiciary only. As a matter of fact, the prosecution will be organised in ten districts and the current 25 police districts will also scale up to 10. In the near future, police and prosecution will be congruent within all the regional districts of the judiciary. The central aim of the programme on courts is to guarantee a certain minimum quality of justice in all the regions of the Netherlands.

3. E-Justice
The e-Justice program will focus on the following themes: increasing implementation of video conferencing, encouraging the introduction of the digital criminal file - including setting up facilities for identification and authentication -, validating and archiving documents, electronic litigation in civil and administrative law - including the introduction of a simple procedure for simple cases -, improving the accessibility of files through the Internet, promoting the establishment of a European e-Justice. These measures will stimulate more efficient and effective interactions between the numerous organisations which shape together the judicial system.

4. Adjusting legal aid
The importance of maintaining expenditures under control underlies the way the legal aid system is assessed. Every effort must be encouraged for the system to withstand periods when the court-load increases, concurrently with the need to save on public expenditure. In the short run, the rates for lawyers will be lowered and, in a divorce case, representation by a lawyer will not be compulsory anymore. This will lead to a budget cut of 50 million Euros. As the cost-covering fees should not lead to reduced access to legal aid, people with lower incomes will be compensated, thus leading to extra expenditures of 100 million Euros. The net result is an increase of 50 million Euros of the legal aid budget.

5. Simplifying procedural law
Civil, administrative and criminal proceedings measures will be designed to better match the needs of litigants and efficient proceedings (for example, a simple procedure for simple civil affairs, a final dispute resolution in administrative law, etc.). In administrative and civil cases, this will, consequently, lower the court fees for the citizens.

The following table summarizes the overall impact of the measures on the budget of the judiciary and legal aid (in million Euros)

 

2012

2013

2014

2015

1. Cost-covering court fees

 

-340

-340

-340

2. Revising the judicial map

0

0

0

0

3. E-Justice

PM

PM

PM

PM

4. Adjusting legal aid

 

50

50

50

5. Simplifying procedural law

 

PM

PM

PM

Frans van der DOELEN
Programme Manager, Department of the Justice System
Ministry of Justice, The Netherlands
Dutch Member of the CEPEJ