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Legal System in Netherlands

Table of Contents

  1. The Dutch Legal System

1.1 Kingdom of the Netherlands

1.2 Government
1.3 Parliament

1.4 Court system

1.5 The effect of European and International law

  1. Sources of law

2.1 Legislation

2.2 Case Law

  1. Legal resources and references

3.1 Law journals (open access)

3.2 Publications of Introduction to Dutch law
3.3 Internet resources

3.4 Law dictionaries

3.5 Citation

  1. Law Schools and the Legal profession

4.1 Law Schools

4.2 Legal profession


  1. The Dutch Legal System

1.1 Kingdom of the Netherlands

The Kingdom of the Netherlands (Koninkrijk der Nederlanden) 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 (Republiek der Verenigde Nederlanden).

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.



Some former colonies (the Dutch Caribbean) are still part of the Kingdom. From October 2010, the Kingdom consists of four countries: Aruba, Curacao, St. Maarten and the Netherlands and three public entities associated with the Netherlands: Bonaire, Sint Eustatius and Saba (BES islands). These BES islands are in terms of legislation and practical functioning much like Dutch municipalities.

For more general information about the legal system of the Dutch Caribbean, see the Dutch Caribbean Legal Portal.


1.2 Government

The Netherlands is a constitutional monarchy. The head of state is the monarch (king or queen), who must adhere to the Constitution. The Constitution lays down that the ministers, but not the monarch, are responsible for government policy. The monarch is therefore not accountable to parliament.

The government of the Netherlands consists of the Queen and her ministers. The ministers in the government and the state secretaries form the Cabinet. The Cabinet governs the country and carries out policy. The Cabinet is regulated by the Parliament.

Government comprises over 1,600 organisations and bodies, including 11 ministries, 12 provincial authorities and 415 municipal authorities. It also includes autonomous administrative authorities, such as police regions and chambers of commerce, the water boards and public bodies for industry and the professions. At the same time, many organisations that we might assume form part of government are in private hands. They include health insurance funds, boards of private schools and benefit agencies such as the UWV.

1.3 Parliament                                                                                                                                    
The Netherlands is a parliamentary democracy, and parliament therefore has the last word. The Dutch Parliament is called ‘the States General’. It consists of two chambers:
the directly elected House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer) and indirectly elected Senate (Eerste Kamer). Together they constitute the legislative assembly.
The House of Representatives is the more powerful of the two. This is where government coalitions are formed and collapse, and where ministers must come to defend their policies. No minister or government can survive a vote of no confidence in the House of Representatives.

Parliamentary documents (Kamerstukken en Handelingen) are available as from 1-1-95 at the website and before that (1814-1995) at the website StatenGeneraaldigitaal


1.4 Court system

General information about the Dutch Judiciary and the Supreme Court of the Netherlands can be found on the website

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 Court); 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 (district courts) and the gerechtshoven (courts of appeal).


The administrative law system has a few supreme courts: the Raad van State (Council of State)-Afdeling bestuursrechtspraak (Administrative Jurisdiction Division) , the Centrale Raad van Beroep (the Central appeals tribunal) mainly dealing with social security and civil servants matters and the College van beroep voor het bedrijfsleven (Trade and Industry Appeals Tribunal) 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.


1.5 The effect of European and International 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.

The Eur-Lex database contains, inter alia, all Community legislation in force.


Another judicial institution, which is increasingly influencing Dutch law, is the European Court of Human Rights, the judicial organ of the European Convention on Human Rights . More information can be found in Ann Burnett’s Guide to Researching the Council of Europe and Sophie Lobey’s The Council of Europe  on Globalex.

As to the effect of general public international law in the Dutch legal order one has to look at articles 93 and 94 of the Constitution. These articles provide for the direct effect (self-execution) of provisions of treaties and of resolutions of international organisations if they are binding on all persons by virtue of their contents. When the Dutch judge rules that such a provision has direct effect, a citizen can invoke the provision in his case and the provision will then prevail over conflicting Dutch law. The question of direct effect is well explained by Brölmann and Vierdag in their contribution to The Integration of International and European Community Law into the National Legal Order. A Study of the Practice in Europe, edited by Eisemann, The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 1996, pp. 433-459.


  1. Sources of law


2.1 Legislation

The most important form of legislation is the legislation made by the central government in cooperation with the parliament: wetgeving in formele zin (acts of parliament).

Lower forms of legislation are rules made by other agencies that belong to central government, such as algemene maatregel van bestuur (orders in council) and ministeriële regelingen (ministerial regulations); by the representative organs of provinces (these rules are called Verordeningen), water boards (these rules are called Keuren) and municipalities (these rules are called Verordeningen), by agencies or other public bodies.

Free internet services
Examples (in Dutch) of various forms of legislation can be found at
Acts of parliament (wetten) and Orders in council (algemene maatregelen van bestuur) are officially published in the Staatsblad  (Official Gazette) and ministerial regulations (ministeriele regelingen) in the Staatscourant (Government Gazette).
Treaties, to which the Netherlands is a party, are officially published from 1951 in the Tractatenblad (Bulletin of Treaties).


Paid subscriptions

The collected texts of legislation are also available in:

  • OpMaat (online database), published by SDU
  • Lexplicatie (online database), published by Kluwer


English translations (printed)

  • The Civil Code of the Netherlands / transl. from the Dutch by Hans Warendorf, Richard Thomas and Ian Curry-Sumner, Alphen aan den Rijn : Kluwer Law International, 2009, ISBN 9789041127662
  • Dutch Patents Act 2010. Amstelveen : DeLex, 2010, ISBN 978-90-8692-025-9
  • The Dutch penal code / transl. [from the Dutch] by Louise Rayar and Stafford Wadsworth; in collab. with Mona Cheung … [et al.]; rev. by Hans Lensing; introd. by Grat van den Heuvel and Hans Lensing, Littleton, Colorado : Rothman, 1997, ISBN 0-8377-0050-7
  • The Netherlands Arbitration Act 1986; [with notes by] Pieter Sanders [and] Albert Jan van den Berg; [transl. from the Dutch], Deventer [etc.]: Kluwer, 1987, ISBN 90-6544-297-9


English translations (internet)

  • Constitution of the Kingdom of the Netherlands 2008
  • General Administrative Law Act
  • Legislation Netherlands (Lexadin)
  • Legislationline Netherlands (OSCE)


2.2 Case Law

Free Internet Services

  • (selected full-text judgments in Dutch)


Paid subscriptions

The main Dutch law reports are Nederlandse Jurisprudentie (NJ), Administratiefrechtelijke Beslissingen (AB), Kort Geding (KG) and Rechtspraak van de Week (RvdW). These are both available in print format and online published by Kluwer.

SDU also publishes several law reports, devoted to specialized branches. These reports are published in both print format and in the online database OpMaat.


English translations

English translations of Dutch case law are scarce. There are a few periodicals however, which publish English summaries of case law:

  • Netherlands Yearbook of International Law (“Netherlands judicial decisions involving questions of public international law”). Most of these summaries are reproduced in the International Law Reports.
  • Netherlands International Law Review (“Netherlands judicial decisions involving questions of private international law”)
  • Uniform Law Review (“International Transport Law Conventions: A Digest of Recent Decisions by Courts in the Netherlands”, by R. Cleton)
  1. Legal resources and references

3.1 Law journals (open access)

  • Electronic journal of comparative law, publishes articles relating to comparative private and public law, comparative legal aspects of information technology and the methodology of comparative law.
  • Erasmus law review seeks to foster independent critical scholarship as relevant to the discipline of law
  • Utrecht Law Review, is an open-access peer-reviewed journal to offer an international platform for cross-border legal research


3.2 Publications of Introduction to Dutch law



  • Dutch law in action / by F.J. Bruinsma (2003)
  • Introduction to Dutch Law / ed. By J.M.J. Chorus. The Hague : Kluwer, 2007, ISBN 9041125078
  • Understanding Dutch law / by Sanne Taekema. The Hague : BJU, 2011,
    ISBN 9789089744760
  • Netherlands Reports to the …. International Congress of Comparative Law:
    15th Bristol 1998
    16th Brisbane 2002
    17th Utrecht 2006
    18th Washington 2010


Civil Law

  • A Short introduction to the new Dutch succession law / by A.J.M. Nuytinck. Deventer: Kluwer, 2002, ISBN 9026840446
  • Intellectual property law in the Netherlands / by P.L. Reeskamp. The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 2002, ISBN 904118136
  • Litigation in the Netherlands: civil procedure, arbitration and administrative litigation / by Marieke van Hooijdonk and Peter Eijsvoogel. Alphen aan den Rijn : Kluwer Law International, 2009, ISBN 9789041128553
  • The Annual Accounts in the Netherlands: a guide to Title 9 of the Netherlands Civil Code / by Peter Thomson, Fred van der Giessen en Dingeman Manschot. Deventer : Kluwer, 2012, ISBN 9789013106954


Family Law

  • Children and their parents / by Machteld Vonk. Antwerp : Intersentia, 2007,
    ISBN 9789050957328
  • Family law legislation of the Netherlands : a translation including Book 1 of the Dutch Civil Code, procedural and transitional provisions and private international law legislation / by Ian Sumner and Hans Warendorf. Antwerp : Intersentia, 2003, ISBN 905953409
  • Inheritance law legislation of the Netherlands: a translation of Book 4 of the Dutch Civil Code / by Ian Sumner and Hans Warendorf. Antwerp : Intersentia, 2005,
    ISBN 9050954448

Law of Obligations

  • Contract Law in the Netherlands / by A.S. Hartkamp and M.M.M. Tillema. The Hague : Kluwer Law International, 1995, ISBN 9041100393
  • The principles of European contract law and Dutch law: a commentary / by D. Busch et al. The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 2002, ISBN 9041117490


Private International Law

  • Book 10 civil code : on the Dutch conflicts of law / by M.H. ten Wolde e.a. Groningen : Hephaestus, 2011, ISBN 9789077096352
  • Private International Law in the Netherlands / by R. van Rooij and M.V. Polak. Deventer: Kluwer, 1987 (ISBN 90-411-0084-9) with update of 1995 (ISBN 90-6544-286-3)


Commercial Law

  • Banking and securities regulation in the Netherlands / by Bas Jennen and Niels van de Vijver. The Hague : Kluwer Law International, 2010, ISBN 9789041128638
  • Comparative and international perspectives on bankruptcy law reform in the Netherlands / ed. By R.D. Vriesendorp Center for Company Law, 2001, ISBN 9054541091
  • Corporate law and practice of the Netherlands / ed. By S.R. Schuit. The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 2002, 2nd edition, ISBN 904111906x
  • Financial law in the Netherlands / ed. by Marcel C.A. van den Nieuwenhuijzen. Alphen aan den Rijn : Kluwer Law International, 2010. ISBN 9789041128577
  • A guide to the NAI arbitration rules: including a commentary on Dutch arbitration law / ed. by Bommel van der Bend, Marnix Leijten, Marc Ynzonides. Alphen aan den Rijn : Kluwer LawInternational, 2009, ISBN 9789041127341
  • Netherlands insolvency law: the Netherlands Bankruptcy Act and the most important legal concepts / by P.J.M. Declercq. The Hague : TMC Asser press, 2002, ISBN 9067041440
  • New Dutch insurance contract law / official text in Dutch, transl. in English, French and German; introd. commentaries by J.H. Wansink, J.G.C. Kamphuisen, W.M.A. Kalkman. Amstelveen : deLex, 2006, ISBN 9086920039
  • Reform of Dutch private company law / by Maarten J. Kroeze et al. In: Private company law reform. The Hague : TMC Asser press, 2010, ISBN 9789067042512


Tax Law

  • An introduction to Dutch tax law 2010 / ed. by Carl van Suchtelen. Amsterdam : Ernst & Young, 2010


Economic Law

  • Competition law of the European Union and the Netherlands: an overview / by T.R. Ottervanger and S.J. van der Voorde. The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 2002, ISBN 9041118969
  • Dutch telecommunications law / by Peter V. Eijsvoogel and Hendrik Jan de Ru. The Hague: Kluwer Law International, 2001, ISBN 9041114696


Constitutional and Administrative Law

  • Constitutional law of the Netherlands / by Leonard F.M. Besselink. Nijmegen : Ars Aequi, 2004, ISBN 9069165333
  • Constitutional law of the Netherlands : an introduction / by Constantijn Kortmann and Paul Bovend’Eert. Alphen aan den Rijn : Kluwer Law International, 2007, ISBN 9789041126337
  • Implementation of the Rome statute in the Netherlands / by A. Cinar and S. van Niekerk (2007)
  • Kingdom of the Netherlands: Charter and Constitution / by Leonard F.M. Besselink. Nijmegen : Ars Aequi, 2004, ISBN 9069165309
  • The Kingdom of the Netherlands / by C.A.J.M. Kortmann; in: Constitutional law of the 15 EU member states. Deventer : Kluwer, 2004, ISBN 9013012558, pp. 590-650
  • Nationality law of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in international perspective / by G.R. de Groot and C. Bollen (2004)
  • The Netherlands Constitution 1848-1998: historical reflections / by J.W. Sap. Utrecht : Lemma, 2000 ISBN 90-5189-872-X
  • The Netherlands: fundamental structures of the constitution of the Netherlands / by Leonard F.M. Besselink (2006)


Criminal Law

  • The Dutch criminal justice system: organization and operation / by Peter J.P. Tak. Nijmegen : Wolf Legal Publishers, 2008, ISBN9789058503428
  • Netherlands’ report for the International Association of Penal law on Ne bis in idem / by A. Klip and H. van der Wilt (2004)


Labor and Social Security Law

  • Employment law and work councils of The Netherlands / by Ferdinand B.J. Grapperhaus and Leonard G. Verburg The Hague : Kluwer Law International, 2009, ISBN 9789041128584
  • Labour law in the Netherlands / by A. Jacobs. The Hague : Kluwer Law International, 2004, ISBN 9041122486


Environmental Law

  • European and Dutch Water law / by H.F.M. van Rijswick and H.J.M. Havekes. Groningen : European Law Publishing, 2011, 9789089521071

In addition, both the Index to Legal Periodicals and the Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (available in paper edition and online database) contain many references to journal articles, dealing with Dutch legal issues.

3.3 Internet resources

  • PORTILL : portal Internet Law Library (Juridische Internet Bibliotheek).
    This portal is part of the cooperation between Dutch universities. The aim of this collaboration is to create an internet law library for the academic legal domain, primarily focused on Dutch law and secondarily on European and international law
  • Dutch Caribbean Legal Portal : news and general information about the legal system of the Dutch Caribbean, its institutions and its practitioners. This portal strives to be the complete database of legal news, contacts and documents for the Dutch Caribbean

3.4 Law Dictionaries



  • Juridisch-economisch lexicon = The legal and economic lexicon / Aart van den End. Deventer : Kluwer, 2010, ISBN 9789013079012
  • Dutch legal terminology in English / by Tony Foster. Deventer, Kluwer, 2009.
    ISBN 9789013064179


  • Nederlandse rechtsbegrippen vertaald : Frans, Engels, Duits (Dutch legal terms translated: French, English, German) / ed. by J.H.M. van Erp., 3d ed. ‘s-Gravenhage: T.M.C. Asser Press, 2006, 3d ed., ISBN 9789067041935
  • Le Docte, Edgard, Dictionnaire de termes juridiques en quatre langues = Viertalig juridisch woordenboek = Legal dictionary in four languages = Rechtswörterbuch in vier Sprachen. Antwerpen : Intersentia, 2011, ISBN 9789050951265

3.5 Citation

The Leidraad voor juridische auteurs contains guidelines how to cite Dutch legislation, case law, parliamentary documents and literature.

  1. Law Schools and the Legal profession

4.1 Law Schools

  • Amsterdam Law School University of Amsterdam
  • Faculty of Law Free University of Amsterdam
  • Faculty of Law University Groningen
  •  Leiden Law School Leiden University
  • Faculty of Law University of Maastricht
  • Faculty of Law Radboud University Nijmegen
  • Erasmus School of Law Erasmus University Rotterdam
  • Tilburg Law School Tilburg University
  • Utrecht School of Law Utrecht University
  • Open University Heerlen

4.2 Legal profession

  • Council for the Judiciary (Raad voor de rechtspraak)
  • The Netherlands Bar (Nederlandse Orde van Advocaten)
  • Legal Aid Board (Raad voor Rechtsbijstand)
  • Royal Netherlands Notarial Organisation (Koninklijke Notariële Beroepsorganisatie)

Source - PTI

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