A new battle for open justice
In a new ruling on April 21, 2023, the Supreme Court ruled that Dutch courts must disclose more case data. This includes data such as the names of the parties involved, hearing dates, the status of the proceedings, and any judgments. This takes a big step but still does not provide full disclosure. The Supreme Court explicitly notes that courts are not required to disclose other types of information. Similarly, not about cases that have already ended without a verdict, such as settlements. In practice, it is very common for cases to be settled, so this will remain an important gap. In this article, I address this ruling and why this new disclosure may be relevant to you as well.
The case involved a cassation in the interest of the law. This judgment was based on a 2012 ruling. In that case, a lawyer had asked a court to provide him with a list of all proceedings in which a specific person was or had been a party and all judgments of cases in which that person had been a party.
The court refused, whereupon the lawyer commenced summary proceedings. After that, the interlocutory court granted the claim only insofar as it concerned judgments already rendered. The Supreme Court disagreed with this in its ruling, and the judgment was therefore set aside.
Not even lawyers have access
Currently, in the Netherlands, it is still virtually impossible for anyone other than the parties directly involved to obtain information about pending court cases. While lawyers can consult the online case registers, they only get more specific information over a longer period of time if they already have a case number.
The problem, however, is that lawyers usually do not have the case number and cannot obtain it easily. Therefore, it is now often impossible even for lawyers to follow legal cases in which they and/or their clients are not involved as parties. For information, therefore, they often depend on the cooperation of one of the parties.
Public, unclear how exactly
Case data will have to be made available to everyone. How that will be done is not yet known. The Internet is the most obvious method. Currently, the policy on what is provided on request varies from court to court.
The Supreme Court indicates in the judgment that it is up to the courts to make uniform regulations on the manner of disclosure. In doing so, the Supreme Court cited the procedural rules as a specific example.
Fits the line
The Supreme Court ruling can be seen as a logical next step on the path to greater openness. It had already been decided in 2021 by the judiciary to make the switch to publishing three-quarters of the judgments, instead of the 5% that was put online at the time of making that decision.
Although the contents of the proceedings, such as the summons and the statement of reply themselves will not become publicly available, it will be easier for interested parties to take note of the fact that there will be a hearing in a particular case. They can then choose to go to the court in order to also get (part of) the substance of the case.
Companies and individuals will now be better able to track the ongoing litigation of others. The reasons you may have for following certain cases are diverse. Sometimes it is about the legal substance, but it may also be precisely about the factual issues at play.
For example, it may be important before you decide to litigate to know if there are more cases against the same party you want to sue. After all, if there are, that may indicate more serious problems. It may be that the recoverability of the claim may come into play, which may be grounds for accepting a settlement that you might have rejected without that knowledge.
Usable for bankruptcy filings
Expanding disclosure can also play an important role in bankruptcy filings. The filing of a creditor’s bankruptcy requires the filing of a support claim.
Now, it is often very difficult to find out who else is left unpaid by the debtor. After enforcement of the judgment, this will become easier. (Threatening to) file for bankruptcy of a debtor is often a relatively cheap yet effective means of enforcing payment.
Are you curious about whether any lawsuits are already pending against a party you are having problems with? Or would you like to follow up on a case you know about? Then contact us by phone and one of our experienced lawyers can take a look for you (after implementation of the judgment, of course) with no obligation! With our knowledge, we can give you good and targeted advice to avoid potential pitfalls. You can reach us by mail, phone, or via the contact form at the bottom of this page.