Going to court
Several parties are involved in every court case. These may include defendants, victims and witnesses, all of whom have their own rights and obligations.
The police can arrest someone who is suspected of committing a criminal offence and question him. In the Netherlands, a suspect can be held without charge for questioning as part of an investigation for up to 6 hours. If someone is arrested for the purpose of establishing his or her identity, the period can be extended once, by another 6 hours. The suspect has the right to consult a lawyer for half an hour before being questioned by the police for the first time. While he is being detained as part of an investigation, he can also ask the police if he can contact his lawyer. A suspect who is a minor also has the right to ask for a lawyer or confidential adviser to be present while he or she is being questioned.
If 6 hours proves insufficient for the purposes of investigation, the assistant public prosecutor may order the suspect to be remanded in police custody for a maximum of 3 days. To obtain a further 3-day extension of this period, the suspect must be brought before the public prosecutor. After the period of remand in police custody, the public prosecutor may apply to the examining magistrate for an order to remand the suspect in custody. This order means that the suspect can be held for a period of 14 days. At the end of this period, the public prosecutor can apply to the district court for a detention order for a period not exceeding 90 days. The total time spent in pre-trial detention may not exceed 110 days.
Once the investigation has been concluded, the public prosecutor may decide to prosecute a suspect. In this case, the suspect will be issued with a notice of summons and accusation, detailing the precise charges against him as well as his rights. It also states when and where the district court will hear the case. The public prosecutor may also decide not to prosecute, for example if there is insufficient evidence against the suspect.
At the hearing, the court either acquits or convicts the defendant, or discharges him from prosecution on a point of law. When someone is convicted, a sentence, such as a fine, an alternative sanction, or a term of imprisonment, or a non-punitive order will be imposed. Furthermore, the person then has a criminal record for a specified period of time.
Appeal or final and unappealable judgment
Someone who has been convicted and wishes to challenge the court’s judgment can lodge an appeal if the law permits. If an appeal is possible, the person who has been convicted (or his lawyer) must lodge an appeal with the court registrar within 14 days. The appeals procedure is free of charge.
The government has plans to ensure that anyone who has been convicted of a serious crime of violence or a sex offence will not be released while an appeal is still pending.
On appeal, a different (higher) court reviews the case. This court may convict or acquit the person previously convicted, or discharge him from prosecution on a point of law. Someone who has been convicted can only lodge an appeal once. After that the option remains of lodging an appeal in cassation with the Supreme Court, if the law permits.
The public prosecutor too may appeal the district court’s judgment. If this happens, the defendant will be notified and summonsed again to appear in court.
Victims and witnesses
Victims or witnesses of a crime also find themselves having to deal with the criminal justice authorities. For instance, they may need to lodge a criminal complaint, or to make a statement.
Victims of a crime
If perpetrators are to be brought to justice, it is important for the victims to go to the police as soon as possible to lodge a criminal complaint. They can do so at the police station, or in the case of minor offences by telephone or online. Once a suspect has been found, the Public Prosecution Service takes over. Suspects are questioned, and if there is due cause, they will be held in pre-trial detention and prosecuted.
The rights of victims in criminal proceedings
The Dutch government is working to strengthen the rights of victims in criminal proceedings. One way of doing so is to give victims the right to information, both about the proceedings and about the scope for claiming damages. In addition, victims and surviving relatives have the right to be treated with respect, to be given the assistance of an interpreter and/or lawyer, and in certain cases to present their point of view in court. These rights are laid down in the Victims’ Status (Legal Proceedings) Act.
The government’s plans include an undertaking to strengthen the position of the victims of crime. Victim support is to be improved. Besides this, a provision for the seizure of assets is to be introduced in criminal law. This will enable the police to seize money and goods from those suspected of a serious crime at an early stage of an investigation. These assets can subsequently be used, following a final and unappealable conviction, to compensate the victims for damage suffered.
Witnesses of criminal offences
In some cases, the police will ask someone who has witnessed a criminal offence to make a statement. You can present yourself as a witness and give as many details as possible. Ask the police officer for his name, so that you can phone him if you suddenly remember something you forgot in your statement. During proceedings the court may also wish to hear witnesses. Witnesses who have been summonsed are obliged to appear and to tell the truth; failure to do so is a criminal offence. Witnesses who believe that they are at risk can ask to be excused from attending.
If the police have found a suspect, they may ask witnesses to make additional statements.
There are various ways of resolving a conflict:
- negotiating directly with the other party;
- negotiating through mediation, that is, with the aid of an independent mediator;
- asking a complaints body (such as a consumer affairs disputes committee) to decide on the matter;
- taking the case to court.
If you find it hard to make the right decision, or are in doubt, you can enlist the help of an expert. There are a variety of bodies that concern themselves with conflict resolution, and that can provide information and advice.