Dutch Legal System

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The Dutch Legal System

The Kingdom of the Netherlands was founded in 1813. It was part of France from 1795 until 1813, before 1795 the greater part of the current territory was governed by a confederation of sovereign provinces.

Government Structure
'Central government is a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system. Since 1814 there has been a hereditary monarchy occupied in turn by Kings William I, William II and William III, followed by the Princess Regent Emma and Queens Wilhelmina, Juliana and Beatrix'. 'The King is immune, ministers are politically responsible and subject to criminal law. In practice only the political responsibility of ministers has any real meaning. Legally speaking the King forms part of the government but actually it is the responsible ministers who make policy'.

Some former colonies are still part of the Kingdom: the Caribbean islands Aruba, Curacao, Bonaire, St. Maarten, St. Eustatius and Saba. They form a federation with the parts of the Kingdom in Europe. The Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands forms its constitution, which has a meaning superior to the written Dutch Constitution. The territory in Europe could be characterized as a decentralised unitary State. Legislative and administrative powers are exercised by central, regional (12 provincies) as well as local bodies (more than 500 gemeenten). There are also other bodies and agencies that have legislative and administrative powers. Examples are the openbare lichamen voor bedrijf en beroep, the zelfstandige bestuursorganen (agencies) and waterschappen (water boards).

Types of Legislation
The most important form of legislation is the legislation made by the central government in cooperation with the Staten-Generaal (Parliament, consisting of two chambres): wetgeving in formele zin (legislation in a formal sense). Lower forms of legislation are rules made by other agencies that belong to central government, such as Algemene maatregel van bestuur and Ministerie regeling, by the representative organs of provincies (these rules are called Verordeningen), waterschappen (these rules are called Keuren) and gemeenten (these rules are called Verordeningen), by zelfstandige bestuursorganen (agencies) or other openbare lichamen (public bodies).

The Court System
The Dutch judicial system can roughly be divided into two subsystems: the general system and the administrative law system. The supreme court in the general system is the Hoge Raad (Supreme Council), it deals with matters of criminal law, tax law as well as private law. The lower courts are the kantongerechten (courts for petty offences and matters of relatively small importance), the rechtbanken (general courts of first instance) and the gerechtshoven (general courts of second instance). The administrative law system has a few supreme courts: the Afdeling bestuursrechtspraak part of the Raad van State (mainly dealing with planning law as well as environmental law), the Centrale Raad van Beroep (mainly dealing with social security and civil servants matters) and the College van beroep voor het bedrijfsleven (dealing with matters of trade and economic administrative law). The Hoge Raad has administrative law tasks as well (the chamber on criminal matters deals with punitive administrative law matters, tax law is considered a form of administrative law). The courts of first instance in administrative law are the rechtbanken. In tax matters the gerechtshoven are courts of first instance, in some matters of economic administrative law only the Rotterdam rechtbank is court of first instance.

The Effect of International and European Law
In the famous Costa-Enel case (6/64) the Court of Justice of the European Community has ruled that European law is an integral part of the national legal system of the EC member countries and takes precedence over national law. Therefore one cannot fully ascertain the applicable law without researching the relevant European law....
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