15 April 2020
Impact of COVID-19 on Dutch legal proceedings
As a result of the measures taken by the Dutch government concerning COVID-19, the courts have decided to change the normal course of events. Below you will find the most important information about the current state of affairs. Of course, our team is available if you have any questions regarding this topic.
1. Access to the Courts
All courts are closed as from 17 March 2020. Whilst initially this meant that the courts were closed for both parties as well as the public, since the 7th of April the courts slightly changed their approach regarding the closure of the courts. In very exceptional cases physical hearings can be allowed. If there is a physical hearing the parties and a maximum of three journalists are allowed. In these cases the court will also try to arrange a livestream.
Judgments will be rendered only in cases considered to be urgent.
Ultimate needed judgments include judgments about pre-trial detention, judgments of the (supervisory) judge which can't be deferred, searches conducted by the supervisory judge, verdicts of recent finished three judge criminal division cases, accelerated proceedings in cases where the suspect is in custody, judgments regarding provisional execution of sentences and the revocation of a provisional parole.
The consequence of the deferral of most of the cases is that the Prosecutor's Office will withdraw the appearance notices and the writs of summons which were already sent out.
2. Communication with the Court
In principle the communication with the courts continues as usual. This means that (again in principle) new litigation matters can be filed and that written procedures continue. Requests for prejudgment seizures are still possible as well. However in very exceptional circumstances the submission of documents can be done in person. The registry should be contacted by telephone when the procedure or situation really requires the submission of documents in person, or if a critical deadline has to be secured at the last minute.
On the 3rd April the courts announced a new approach. In this approach the courts also provide a new method of communications. When the statutory provisions prescribe that communication should be done by physical post or fax, it is allowed to use emailing as from the 9th April as well. Parties should use the 'Safe mailing'-tool that is provided by the courts. This applies to (procedural) documents and messages to the courts.
3. Extension of deadlines
The deadlines to submit documents to the court remain unaltered. However, if an extension of the deadline is requested the courts will, in principle, allow such extension. Only if the counterparty/parties object, the court will look assess whether an extension needs to be granted. Also, if the deadline for the submission of new proceedings is slightly exceeded, this does not impact the outcome of the proceedings. This is different for the Supreme Court where the deadlines continue to apply. An extension of deadlines isn't possible regarding cases at the Supreme Court.
In case of criminal procedures the normal deadlines apply. It doesn't seem that extensions will be given easier than before. The reason why, is that most cases are already either deferred or stayed. Only the ultimate needed cases will be dealt with at the moment. Since in these cases a judgment is ultimately required, an extension will be given based upon the statutory provisions.
4. Electronic hearings
The initiate approach of the Dutch courts is that no oral hearings will take place. In principle all proceedings continue on the basis of written submissions. Only in exceptional cases an oral hearing can take place through either video or conference call. Urgent criminal cases will in principle be held by video or conference call. Only in highly exceptional cases physical appearance will be required. No specific guideline is provided in this respect.
During the past weeks the courts have invested in the availability of video and/or conference connections. As the courts have been able to scale up their video capacity, they expect to be able to handle more cases as of 7th April.
Per area of law, cases are divided into three categories: super urgent, urgent and other cases. With the new approach, not only the super urgent cases will be heard, but also the other urgent cases. In principle these cases will be handled via written submissions. Only if parties can't agree on the means of written submissions a (video) conference is possible.