Further insight into the Dutch legal system

door GB op 23/11/2009

in Buitenland

In het NJB heeft Van der Schyff het debat over het wetsvoorstel Halsema voortgezet. Het voorstel slaat naar zijn opvatting een heilloze weg in. In plaats daarvan zou de Grondwet de verplichting moeten bevatten dat de rechter onze eigen grondrechten als ‘interpretatierichtsnoer’ hanteren bij de uitleg van de verdragsrechten. In het meest recente nummer van het NJB reageren Fleuren, Peters en ondergetekende op dit artikel. Van der Schyff kreeg het laatste woord. Het geheel is terug te vinden op het NJBlog.

Dat biedt ons de gelegenheid om te voldoen aan een verzoek uit het Verenigd Koninkrijk. Daar pikte het UKSCblog een verwijzing van Publiekrecht en Politiek op, om die post vervolgens te laten vertalen. Wat daaruit kwam, smaakte bij onze Britse vrienden naar meer inzicht in het Nederlandse constitutionele recht. Met dank aan LD een bijdrage aan dit diepere inzicht:

Our friends at the UKSCblog have stated that they are eagerly awaiting further insight into the Dutch legal system. A recent discussion in the most widely read legal magazine in the Netherlands, the Dutch Lawyers’ Magazine (NJB), may provide that insight. This discussion sprang from an article in the same magazine, which criticised a bill to amend the Constitution. This bill aims to allow judges to test formal statutes (roughly equivalent to Acts of Parliament in the UK) against certain articles of the Constitution. Judicial review will only be allowed with regard to those constitutional provisions which contain so-called ‘subjective rights’, such as freedom of speech, freedom of assembly or the right to be protected against discrimination.

The current Constitution contains an absolute ban for judges to review whether formal statutes are in breach of the Constitution (article 120 of the Constitution). The original idea behind this ban was that is was not up to the non-elected courts to correct the democratically elected Members of Parliament’s interpretation of the Constitution. However, many nowadays argue that this idea should be revised. Over half a century ago, an article was introduced in the Constitution, empowering the Dutch courts to set aside statutes that are found to be in violation of self-executing provisions of international treaties (article 94 of the Constitution). This has led to a legal anomaly, which Dutch politician Femke Halsema of the Green Left party aims to correct by amending the Constitution.

The problem is, in the Netherlands it is exceptionally difficult to amend the Constutiton. It requires two readings in both Houses of Parliament, and these readings are separated by general elections for the Lower House (Tweede Kamer). During the second reading, a majority of two-thirds of the votes cast is needed. Obtaining such a majority is not an easy task in the Dutch political scene, and this is only the more the case when it comes to introducing judicial review. Opinions on this subject have been split for decades. The large parties at the centre of the political spectrum that are used to run the country by compromises are hesitant to give the green light for more judicial interferences. A senator for the liberal VVD party was even annoyed by the suggestion that Parliament sometimes adopts legislation that violates the Constitution.

Representatives of the VVD party and the Christian Democrats of the CDA party in the Dutch Senate are, at the moment, the most fervent opponents of partially amending the Constutition to introduce judicial review. Still, support for a moderate form of review is growing. The first reading of Halsema’s bill was completed last year. The bill received ample support in the Lower House, with only the CDA MPs voting against it. In the Senate, the vote was a close call, the bill being passed with the smallest possible majority: 37 against 36 votes. The Dutch government (consisting of ministers and state secretaries; these cannot be Members of Parliament) is internally divided on the issue of judicial review, but it has nonetheless ratified Halsema’s bill. The second reading can commence after elections have been held. These will presumably take place in May 2011.

In the mean time, the Halsema proposal will no doubt continue to be a source for debates in legal magazines. In the aforementioned article, Dr. Van der Schyff of the University of Tilburg argued that testing statutes against the Constitution cannot be compared to testing statutes against international treaties. In response to the article, Prof. Peters of the University of Amsterdam, who is an adviser to Ms. Halsema, stated that he fails to see fundamental differences between the concept of “free speech” as protected by the Constitution, and the concept of “free speech” as protected by the European Convention on Human Rights.

And so the debates continues. In other words: if you think of The Netherlands, you see wide rivers of debate about introducing judicial review progressing through endless lowlands.

UPDATE: http://www.olswang.com/blogs/scotuk2/article.asp?id=411

1 Henk 23/11/2009 om 17:23

Wie is die VVD-senator eigenlijk?

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