This page provides you with information about the judicial system in the Netherlands. The Dutch Government consists of the Ministers, their Secretaries of State and the King. To that extent, the Netherlands is something of an exception among the Western European monarchies, in most of which the monarch is not part of the government. Since the comprehensive review of the Constitution in 1848 the Netherlands has been a constitutional monarchy with a parliamentary system.
The Constitution provides the framework for the organisation of the Dutch state and forms the basis for legislation. Treaties between the Netherlands and other states are a major source of law. Article 93 of the Constitution stipulates that provisions of treaties and of decisions by international institutions may have direct effect in the Dutch legal system, in which case these provisions take precedence over Dutch laws. Thus, statutory measures that are in force within the Kingdom of the Netherlands do not apply if they are incompatible with those provisions. Therefore, the rules of the European Union laid down in treaties, regulations and directives are a major source of law in the Netherlands.
The Charter for the Kingdom of the Netherlands governs relations between the three parts of the Kingdom (the Netherlands and the two overseas parts, the Netherlands Antilles and Aruba).
Laws are made at national level.
By means of delegation by law, the central government may lay down (further) rules in orders in council and in ministerial regulations. Independent orders in council (which are not derived from a law) are possible, but cannot be enforced by a penal provision.
The Constitution confers regulatory authority upon the lower bodies under public law (provinces, municipalities and water boards).
General principles of law are of relevance to government and the dispensation of justice. Sometimes, this is implied by the law, as in the Civil Code for instance (reasonableness and fairness). The court may also take its cue from general principles of law when passing judgment.
Custom is a further source of law. In principle, a custom is only relevant if the law refers to it, but still the court may take account of custom in its judgment in the event of conflict. Custom cannot be a source of law when establishing a criminal offence (Article 16 of the Constitution).
Legal precedent is a source of law, as court rulings have wider significance than the specific case in which the ruling was pronounced. The rulings of higher courts serve as guidance. Those of the Supreme Court are particularly authoritative as the task of this court is to promote uniformity in the law. In new cases, therefore, the lower court will consider a ruling of the Supreme Court when reaching judgment.
Article 94 of the Constitution states that some international rules of law take hierarchical precedence: statutory provisions that are incompatible with these rules do not apply. European law, by its nature, takes precedence over national law. This is followed by the Charter, the Constitution and Acts of Parliament. These rank above other measures. Acts of Parliament are adopted jointly by the government and the States General (the people’s elected representatives).
It is also stipulated that a law may wholly or partly lose its effect only as a result of a subsequent law. In addition, there is a general rule of interpretation that specific laws rank above general laws.
In the continental tradition, written law is considered to be a higher source of law than legal precedent.
The legislative process
The Constitution does not provide for a ‘legislative power’. Laws are a joint decision of the government and States General. Legislative proposals can be submitted by the government or the Lower House of the States General. The Council of State advises on legislative proposals, as well as on orders in council. Other stakeholders are generally consulted when a legislative proposal is being prepared.
The Lower House has the right of amendment. Usually, the Council of Ministers adopts legislative proposals and sends them to the Council of State for its recommendation. The government responds to that recommendation by drawing up a further report. Then, the government sends the legislative proposal – with any necessary amendments – to the Lower House by Royal Message. The proposal may be amended while it is being debated by the Lower House. Once it has been accepted by the Lower House, the Upper House debates the proposal. No further amendments may be made at this stage; the Upper House may only accept or reject the legislative proposal. Once it has been accepted by the Upper House, the head of state ratifies the proposal and it becomes law.
Overheid.nl is the central access point for all information about the government organisations of the Netherlands. This page provides access to:
The ‘Wet- en regelgeving’ page contains consolidated legislation dating from 1 May 2002.
Access to the website and database is free of charge.
The national language version of this page is maintained by the respective Member State. The translations have been done by the European Commission service. Possible changes introduced in the original by the competent national authority may not be yet reflected in the translations. The European Commission accepts no responsibility or liability whatsoever with regard to any information or data contained or referred to in this document. Please refer to the legal notice to see copyright rules for the Member State responsible for this page.