Dutch Legal Matters

Below please find some general information on how the Dutch court system works and what to generally expect when bringing or defending claims in the Dutch courts.

The Dutch legal system is not jury based, but relies on professional judges. Most cases are heard by a single judge and more complex matters by three judges. All appeal cases are heard by at least three judges. The Dutch law system does not allow for dissenting opinions. The secrecy of deliberation by the court is absolute.

Lower courts

The Dutch court system has two main entry points, through the small claims courts (also known as cantonal courts: "kantongerechten") for monetary claims of up to EUR 25,000, employment cases and cases involving the lease of residential and commercial property. Legal representation by a lawyer or barrister is not compulsory, but in most cases is advisable when defending or bringing a case as the rules of civil procedure can be complicated.

All other cases, such as divorces, bankruptcy requests,  monetary claims above EUR 25,000 and administrative law cases must be brought before the 11 district courts ("arrondissementsrechtbanken"). Representation by a lawyer/ barrister is compulsory. Court fees for cases brought before the district courts are higher than the fees for the cantonal courts.

Legal representation is not compulsory in administrative/ planning law cases.

Appeal courts

Nearly all cases can be appealed. Civil and criminal cases to the four courts of appeal and administrative cases to two separate courts of appeal, one for planning matters and the other for civil service employees, which deliver the highest judgement in administrative cases.

Supreme court

In civil cases, after appeal, matters of law can be appealed to the Supreme Court ("Hoge Raad") which is the highest court in The Netherlands. Thereafter only the European Court of Justice can overturn Dutch rulings.

Initiating proceedings

There are two forms of proceedings under Dutch law. Procedures are either initiated by a petition or a writ of summons. Most civil cases are initiated by writ of summons and most family law cases by petition. Bankruptcy requests are also filed as a petition. 

Learn more about civil law and family law proceedings:

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