THE COURT SYSTEM - NETHERLANDS
Civil and criminal justice in Netherlands is administered in 61 Sub-district Courts, 19 District Courts, five Courts of Appeal, and the Supreme Court of the Netherlands. Straightforward cases are heard first in the Sub-district Court, while more complicated (and all criminal) ones go straight to the District Court. Once a court has given a judgment, both the prosecution and defence are entitled to appeal against it to a higher court- appeals from Sub-district Courts going to the District Court, and those from District Courts going to the Court of Appeal. Each Court of Appeal serves a number of District Courts, which in turn each serve several Sub-district Courts.
The Netherlands is divided into 19 districts, each with its own court. Each court has a number of subdistrict venues. There are 61 of these in total. The district court is made up of a maximum of five sectors. These always include the administrative sector, civil sector, criminal sector and subdistrict sector. Family and juvenile cases are often put into a separate sector, as is sometimes the case with the administration of the law concerning aliens. The court council is free to determine such matters.
It is relatively simple for ordinary citizens to have their case heard in the subdistrict sector. This means that they have the right to argue their own case and do not need a lawyer to represent them in court. In terms of civil law, the subdistrict judge deals with all cases involving rents, hire purchase and employment. He also deals with all conflicts involving an amount under 5,000 euros.
In criminal law, the subdistrict judge only deals with minor offences, not serious offences. Often these are cases in which the police or the public prosecutor has proposed a settlement. If the accused refuses to accept such a proposal, then the case comes before the subdistrict judge. The subdistrict judge usually delivers an oral judgement immediately after the session.
The judges of the criminal law sector deal with all criminal cases which do not come before the subdistrict judge. These cases can be heard in single-judge divisions or in full-bench divisions with three judges. The full-bench division deals with more complex cases and all cases in which the prosecution demands a sentence of more than one year's imprisonment.
CIVIL LAW/FAMILY LAW
The civil sector also handles cases not specifically allocated to the subdistrict judge. Most of these cases are decided by a single judge, but here too there are full-bench divisions with three judges to deal with more complex cases. A number of district courts have a separate sector for family and juvenile cases, when the number of such cases is considerable
With only a handful of exceptions, administrative disputes are heard by the district court; in many cases the hearing by the administrative law sector is preceded by an objection procedure under the auspices of the administrative authorities. It is usual for these cases to be heard by a single-judge division, but here too the district court can decide to appoint three judges to a case which is complex or which involves fundamental issues. If the district court in question has no separate sector to handle cases governed by the law concerning aliens, such cases are dealt with by the administrative law sector or a division thereof. In cases involving civil servants and social security issues, appeal is a matter for a special appeals tribunal, the Central Appeals Tribunal, and in most other cases for the Administrative Jurisdiction Division of the Council of State.
COURTS OF APPEAL
The 19 districts are divided into five areas of Court of Appeal jurisdiction: The Hague and Amsterdam in the west, Arnhem in the east, 's Hertogenbosch in the south and Leeuwarden in the north. With regard to criminal and civil law, the justices of the Court of Appeal only deal with cases where an appeal has been lodged against the judgement passed by the district court. The Court of Appeal re-examines the facts of the case and reaches its own conclusions. In most cases it is possible to contest the Court of Appeal's decision by appealing in cassation to the Supreme Court of the Netherlands. In addition to criminal and civil cases, the Court of Appeal also deals with all appeals against tax assessments, in its capacity as administrative court.
The Central Appeals Tribunal is a board of appeal which is mainly active in legal areas pertaining to social security and the civil service. In these areas it is the highest judicial authority. The Tribunal is based in Utrecht.
The Trade and Industry Appeals Tribunal is a special administrative court which rules on disputes in the area of social-economic administrative law. In addition this appeals tribunal also rules on appeals for specific laws, such as the Competition Act and the Telecommunications Act. The Tribunal is based in The Hague.
THE SUPREME COURT
The Supreme Court is the Netherlands' highest court for both civil and criminal cases. It comprises a president, six vice-presidents, and 35 justices and is located in The Hague,
It has the power to quash judgments given by lower courts if the lower court has applied the law incorrectly, but it does not examine the facts of the cases that come before it. Its main duty is to ensure the uniform application of the law. The Supreme Court may also give judgment in cases heard in the courts of the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba.
But the Supreme Court is not a constitutional court. It does not have the power to repeal an Act of Parliament on the grounds of incompatibility with the Constitution. The Constitution also rules out trial by jury and the imposition of the death penalty.
One power that the Supreme Court does have- in common with all Dutch courts- is that it may refuse to apply an Act of Parliament on the grounds of incompatibility with an international treaty. The Constitution was amended in 1953 to give primacy to universally binding international law. Another amendment passed in 1956 makes universally binding provisions of international agreements directly applicable in the Netherlands, that is, without the need for Dutch legislation. The Netherlands adheres to the doctrine of monism, whereby national and international law together form a single legal order.