This blog provides information about how civil proceedings work in the Netherlands. This information can be helpful if you have received a writ of summons at your home address or at your company office.
Writ of summons
Civil law proceedings in the Netherlands always commence by a writ of summons (“summons”). This summons is served by a Dutch bailiff, at the request of the plaintiff, on the defendant. It states that the defendant is summoned to appear in the Dutch court on a specific time and date. It also entails the consequences of non-appearance, the legal basis of the claim and the legal amount of corresponding court fee due. In short, the summons ensures that the defendant is aware that someone has filed a lawsuit against him and what is claimed.
In cantonal court cases both parties are not obliged to retain the services of a lawyer. In all other civil cases they should appear represented by a Dutch lawyer (a member of the Dutch Bar Association). Thus, in order to bring a court action or to perform procedural acts in civil proceedings before the District Court in the Netherlands, a party always need the assistance of a solicitor.
(Non-)appearance in court
The minimum period of time between serving a writ to start the civil proceedings on a Dutch defendant and appearance in a Dutch court is one week. When all the legal requirements for the summon are met, but the defendant doesn’t lodge a defense, the case is adjourned for a default judgement of non-appearance within four weeks. Within this period it remains possible to clear the default by electing counsel or lodging a defense. If the defendant does not appear within this time, the court will honor the claim entirely, unless “this seems unlawful or unfounded to the court”. It is thus advisable to consult a lawyer as soon as you receive a non-appearance verdict against you because when the appeal is made too late, the default judgment will be declared “enforceable”, which means the plaintiff can for instance seize all your assets.
A statement of defense
A defendant also sets out their case to the court by use of a written statement, this is called a statement of defense. This statement must contain all relevant facts, evidence and witness that the defendant will rely on to support his defense and well-argued reasons that the defendant is to rely on.
After this statement is submitted, the Dutch court will schedule a hearing. The judge will use the hearing to gather further information in order to determine whether the case can be settled or how the case should proceed.
Judgement of the Dutch court
A judgement of the Dutch court will be rendered after court the hearing and no further submissions will be allowed. The judgement date is usually set to 6 weeks after the order to appear in court or request for closing arguments has taken place. This can either be an interim or final judgement. Interim judgements are decisions that only deal with part of the matter in dispute. Final judgments in civil court proceedings in the Netherlands conclude the court dispute and have binding force on the parties.
An appeal can be lodged by the Court of Appeal. The former judgement is no longer enforceable. The appeal process assesses the merits and facts of the original case and can entail a full re-examination of the case, though this depends on what points of the first judgement have been appealed. The grounds for appeal submitted are therefore of great importance to what the appeal court may rule on.
After appeal, points of law may be appealed to the Dutch Supreme Court. So, if the complaint is that the Court of Appeal has not applied the law correctly or that the grounds of the judgement are not properly understandable, this may be appealed to the Supreme Court, but if the complaint is that the Court of Appeal did not evaluate the facts of the case properly, there are no grounds for further appeal.
Lawyer in the Netherlands for civil proceedings
Many procedural rules regarding civil law proceedings in the Netherlands are rather archaic and hard to understand for a layman. It is therefore always profitable to immediately engage a lawyer in order to assist you and avoid that you lose your rights. Lisa Jie Sam Foek is a contract lawyer and has a lot of experience with civil proceedings in the Netherlands (firstname.lastname@example.org). She also wrote a blog about the termination of distribution agreements in the Netherlands which is recommendable to read.