Thinking along with the judge
Under a proposal launched by Minister Dekker (Legal Protection), the most senior administrative judges in the country will be able to ask parties other than those directly involved to contribute ideas and suggestions regarding a case. These outside contributions (e.g. from civil society organisations) may help the judges obtain a better and more comprehensive insight into the potential societal impact of their rulings. ‘I believe that outside contributors have an important role to play when it comes to increasing the societal effectiveness of the administrative courts’, the minister said in his speech at the conference marking the 25th anniversary of the General Administrative Law Act (Awb: Algemene wet bestuursrecht).
The minister referred to a case involving the review of a municipal development plan, in which the Association of Netherlands Municipalities (VNG: Vereniging van Nederlandse Gemeenten), project developers and building contractors were asked for their opinions. Dekker: ‘What could be more logical and useful than that? There is an increasing awareness that the government should be able to provide tailor-made solutions when required. This requires more interaction between the parties and a willingness to make exceptions for special cases.’ The minister believes that this approach should extend to the courts as well.
By way of an experiment, the Administrative Jurisdiction Division of the Council of State (ABRvS: Afdeling bestuursrechtspraak van de Raad van State) appealed to outside contributors (amici curiae) in three administrative law procedures last year. In all three procedures, the ABRvS submitted questions to which these parties were given the opportunity to respond. As a result of this experiment, the ABRvS, the Supreme Court, the Central Appeals Tribunal and the Trade and Industry Appeals Tribunal all recommended an extension of the amicus curiae instrument, subject to the inclusion of a legal basis for it in the Awb. The minister will now proceed with making preparations for this.
The conference also provided an opportunity to say farewell to Prof. M. Scheltema, one of the initiators of the Awb in his capacity as government commissioner for administrative law. As early as 1982, he chaired an investigative working group that outlined the contours of what would become known as the Awb years later. Dekker: ‘He subsequently devoted almost every day of his working life to developing the Awb.’ To commemorate Scheltema’s many years of public service, a new series of lectures will bear his name. This will involve five lectures each year on the role of the Awb in shaping the relationship between the government, the public and society.