More high-security facilities and stringent regimes for serious criminals

The approach to tackling organised crime has led to an increase in arrests of an ‘exceptional category’ of serious crime suspects. The Netherlands will therefore be equipped with a total of four judicial complexes in the future (Lelystad, Schiphol, Vlissingen and Vught) to create a nationwide network of high-security facilities where serious criminals in the Netherlands who present a risk of escape can be detained and put on trial. Furthermore, regulations will be amended in the areas of the prison system, the legal profession and the course of justice, such as more stringent detention regimes, improved supervision of the legal profession and more digital court hearings to prevent dangerous transport movements. This is the crux of the letter that Minister Dekker for Legal Protection submitted to the Lower House of Parliament today.

Minister Dekker:

‘This category comprises serious criminals with considerable power and resources, who are prepared to do whatever it takes to continue their illegal practices. This poses a serious threat to our security. This exceptional group of detainees calls for an exceptional approach.’

National network of high-security institutions

In order to prevent serious criminals from forming networks and carrying out criminal activities during detention and during the course of justice, and to reduce the number of high-risk transport movements, they must be detained and put on trial in a different manner to regular prisoners. Investments will therefore be made in four judicial complexes.

• Maximum security cells will be built at the Schiphol Judicial Complex in 2022 to accommodate overnight stays for detainees who pose a high escape or societal risk during consecutive multi-day trials. This will reduce the number of high-risk transport movements from and to penal institutions. 

• As announced earlier, a new Judicial Complex will be built in Vlissingen, which is scheduled for completion in mid-2028. The complex comprises a second maximum security institution, a high-security hearing location and a high-security work and overnight accommodation facility where judges, court clerks, public prosecutors and lawyers can work and stay overnight. 

• A high-security hearing location replacing the Bunker in Amsterdam-Osdorp will be built at the Lelystad Penal Institution, where cells could potentially be built to accommodate temporary overnight stays for detainees who pose a high escape or societal risk. 

• The Vught Penal Institution will be equipped with a high-quality video facility and a secure interview room. As a result, the most serious criminals will no longer need to be transported by car to their trial in the future, but can participate in their trial in front of a camera in prison. From 2023, it will be possible to conduct hearings before an examining judge in Vught, which will further reduce the number of transport movements. This includes witness examinations or hearings in which decisions must be made on whether the pre-trial detention of a detainee should be extended.

The small-scale units with Intensive Supervision have a more stringent supervision regime for detainees than the regular regimes. They have their own day programme, so that they do not have any contact with detainees from other units. In addition to the Intensive Supervision Units that were opened in Leeuwarden in 2020 and in Krimpen aan den IJssel in early 2021, a third Intensive Supervision Unit is scheduled to open in Alphen aan den Rhijn in mid-2022. It will be monitored whether these units may subsequently need to be further expanded.

Prison system

To prevent the continuation of organised crime during detention and the course of justice, the current laws and regulations must be amended. Changes must firstly be made to the prison system. We have found that criminals in detention still find a way to communicate with their criminal network, using telephones smuggled into prisons, for instance, or errand boys. More, stricter and longer supervision will therefore be put in place by, for instance, facilitating the placement of more detainees in the maximum security institution. Detainees in the maximum security institution and in the intensive security units should also be restricted from starting a business or carrying out major financial transactions. Prison staff will undergo more intensive resilience training, and the four-eyes principle will apply to official visits to detainees in the maximum security institution to make it more difficult to exert pressure on an individual staff member. Furthermore, information sharing between the various organisations in the criminal justice system will be improved to obtain quicker and better insight into the weak spots and rotten apples.

Legal profession

The arrest of a lawyer in the maximum security institution suggests that lawyers may also become involved in subversive activities. To make it more difficult for detainees to exert pressure and thus coerce a lawyer into cooperating with continued criminal activities from detention, a measure that is also being considered in this context is to only allow lawyers to visit detainees in the maximum security institution in pairs. Supervision of the legal profession will also be strengthened. Supervision will be transferred from the local dean of the Bar Association to a central body. This may also include an executive committee within the announced national supervisory authority that will have the authority to launch investigations and to take administrative and disciplinary enforcement action. 

In view of the core value of independence enshrined in law, it is difficult to justify that lawyers may assist clients with whom they have close personal or family ties. The Minister has therefore called on the Netherlands Bar (NOVa) to engage in dialogue with the legal profession on this topic and to intervene earlier, if necessary. Another topic that is being discussed with the Netherlands Bar is whether the limit for cash payments can be reduced or preferably abolished altogether. 

Course of justice

The amount of transport used for detainees who pose serious risks to public order and security is no longer acceptable and must be substantially reduced. Investments will therefore be made in additional digital facilities, such as videoconferencing, so that the court can determine that not all suspects need to be physically present in the courtroom but will still be heard in the proper manner. This will also prevent suspects who are involved in a trial from still being able to communicate with each other. The Videoconferencing Decree (Besluit videoconferentie) will be amended so that the court can decide without the consent of the suspect or defence counsel to hold a digital court hearing if the transportation of a suspect to and from the hearing poses serious security risks.