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As regards private law, civil courts take cognisance of all civil cases in the first instance, with the exception of cases laid down by law.
In the field of private law, the Dutch legal system consists of three types of civil court: district courts, courts of appeal and the Netherlands Supreme Court.
There are nineteen district courts and five courts of appeal. There is one Supreme Court.
Organisational units have been created within the civil courts. These units are referred to as “sectionsâ€�. The district courts consist of the following sections: the subdistrict section, the administrative law section, the civil law section and the criminal law section.
District courts have single-judge and multi-judge sections. A single-judge section consists of one judge, while a multi-judge section consists of three judges. In principle, proceedings before a subdistrict court, uncomplicated cases and cases requiring some urgency are heard by a single-judge section. Cases of some legal complexity are heard by a multi-judge section. Many family cases are also heard by single-judge sections. An example of a single-judge section is the juvenile court, which is competent to take cognisance of certain children’s cases.
The civil court does not have jurisdiction in disputes for which the administrative court has been designated the competent authority. This concerns disputes involving the administration (the government).
The allocation of tasks within a court’s subdistrict and civil sections is laid down in the Code of Civil Procedure [Wetboek van Burgerlijke Rechtsvordering]. In principle, the court’s civil section has competence in all cases, except those for which the law prescribes that the subdistrict section has competence.
The most important criteria for the above allocation of tasks is:
The subdistrict court shall have jurisdiction where the value of the claim does not exceed
€ 5000.00. The subdistrict court shall also have jurisdiction in cases concerning claims for an undetermined value, where there are indications that the claim does not represent a value in excess of € 5000.00.
The subdistrict court shall have jurisdiction in relation to claims pertaining to leases, (individual and collective) labour agreements, agency contracts and hire purchase agreements. The level of the claim is not relevant.
In all other cases, the civil section has competence.
This question concerns what is referred to as ‘territorial jurisdiction’, i.e. the question of which of the nineteen district courts has competence: for example, the district court of Amsterdam or the district court of Leeuwarden. Thus, this concerns the question of geographical jurisdiction.
The answer given below describes the territorial jurisdiction of Dutch civil courts. For international cases, i.e. cases of a cross-border nature, once the competence (jurisdiction) of the Dutch court has been determined, territorial jurisdiction shall be determined by internal Dutch law (except where the rule on the basis of which international jurisdiction is determined also designates the court with territorial jurisdiction. See, for example, Article 5(2) of the Brussels I Regulation).
The basic rule for proceedings commenced by writ of summons in the first instance (see Article 99 of the Code of Civil Procedure) is that, except where the law determines otherwise, the civil court with competence in the place where the defendant lives shall have jurisdiction for proceedings of this nature. Where the defendant does not have any known place of residence in the Netherlands, the court in the place where the defendant actually resides (in the Netherlands) shall have jurisdiction. The Judiciary (Territorial Division) Act [Wet op de rechterlijke indeling] prescribes which civil court shall have jurisdiction in respect of a defendant with his/her domicile or residence in a certain municipality. This Act places each municipality in one of the nineteen court districts.
The basic rule for proceedings commenced by an application in the first instance (see Article 262 of the Code of Civil Procedure) is that the civil court with jurisdiction in the place where the applicant lives (or one of the applicants, or one of the interested parties mentioned in the application) shall have jurisdiction, and, where there is no known place of residence in the Netherlands, the court in the place where the applicant actually resides (in the Netherlands) shall have jurisdiction. Where the application is connected with proceedings instituted by summons, the court that takes cognisance of these proceedings shall also have jurisdiction.
The rules below in 2a, 2b and 2c pertain chiefly to proceedings commenced by summons.
In proceedings commenced by application, where, in general, the court applied to by the applicant has jurisdiction, different rules shall apply for petitions in relation to changes in levels of alimony and maintenance obligations.
A petition for changes to the level of maintenance paid should be submitted to the court with jurisdiction in the place where the child in question lives.
A petition for changes to the level of alimony paid should be submitted by the individual entitled to said alimony to the court with competence in the place where the person obliged to pay alimony resides. Where the person obliged to pay alimony wishes to submit a petition of this nature, said individual should apply to the court in the place where the person entitled to alimony lives.
Dutch procedural law includes a number of provisions in which a competent court is designated, which has jurisdiction in addition to the court designated as having jurisdiction by the basic rule (i.e. the court in the place where the defendant (actually) lives). This is referred to as ‘alternative jurisdiction’. The claimant has the opportunity to choose between the basic rule and the alternative rule. This is expressed by the use of the word “alsoâ€� below. The predominant rules are indicated below:
The following rules apply for proceedings commenced by summons :
In labour cases/agency cases (Article 100 of the Code of Civil Procedure), the court in the place where labour is normally performed shall also have jurisdiction.
In consumer cases (Article 101 of the Code of Civil Procedure), the court in the place of residence, or, in the absence thereof, the court in the place where the consumer actually lives shall also have jurisdiction.
Wrongful act (Article 102 of the Code of Civil Procedure)
In cases concerning obligations arising from a wrongful act, the court in the place where the harmful event occurred shall also have jurisdiction.
Immoveable property (Article 103 of the Code of Civil Procedure)
In cases concerning immovable property, the court in the place in which the property, or the greatest part of said property, is situated shall also have jurisdiction. In cases concerning the leasing of residential accommodation or business accommodation, exclusive jurisdiction shall be enjoyed by the subdistrict court with jurisdiction in the area in which the leased property or the greater part thereof is situated.
Estates (Article 104 of the Code of Civil Procedure)
In cases concerning estates, the court in the deceased’s last place of residence shall also have jurisdiction (this jurisdiction is also referred to as the court with jurisdiction in relation to the “house where the deceased last residedâ€�, i.e. the municipality in which the deceased died).
Legal entities (Article 105 of the Code of Civil Procedure)
In cases concerning legal entities (for example, cases concerning the dissolution of legal entities, the nullity or validity of decisions taken by legal entities, the rights and obligations arising for members or partners), the court in the place where the legal entity or company is domiciled or has its place of business shall also have jurisdiction.
Bankruptcy, moratoriums on payments and debt rescheduling (Article 106 of the Code of Civil Procedure)
In cases concerning application of legal provisions in respect of bankruptcy, moratoriums on payments and debt rescheduling, the court of which the delegated judge forms part shall also have jurisdiction, or, where no delegated judge has been appointed, the court that pronounced the moratorium on payments. The Bankruptcy Act [ Faillissementwet ] also contains a number of jurisdiction rules, which rules shall prevail over the rule indicated above.
In addition, the following applies as regards cases pertaining to divorce :
The territorial jurisdiction of divorce courts is laid down in Article 262 of the Code of Civil Procedure (basic rule): the court in the place where the applicant lives (or one of the applicants or one of the interested parties indicated in the application) shall have jurisdiction , and, where this party does not have any known place of residence in the Netherlands, the court in the place where said party actually lives (in the Netherlands). The interested party’s designated court is an alternative court to that of the applicant.
Dutch procedural law includes a number of provisions that deviate from the basic rule. In these cases, there is no opportunity to choose between the specific rule and the basic rule; the specific rule prevails.
As regards cases pertaining to minors , the following specific rule applies in relation to territorial jurisdiction:
In cases concerning minors, the court in the place where the minor lives shall have jurisdiction, or, in the absence of a place of residence in the Netherlands, the court in the place where the minor actually lives (Article 265 of the Code of Civil Procedure).
This rule is not an alternative rule, but a specific rule that supersedes the basic rule. The court in the place where the applicant is domiciled or lives does not have jurisdiction (basic rule for proceedings commenced by an application), but the court in the place where the minor lives, or, in the absence of a place of residence in the Netherlands, the court in the place where the minor actually lives. In addition, where this rule does not designate a court with territorial jurisdiction, the district court of The Hague shall have jurisdiction.
In addition to the above, Dutch procedural law includes the following specific rules on territorial jurisdiction (here too, only the most important rules will be indicated):
Births, deaths and marriages (Article 263 of the Code of Civil Procedure)
In cases concerning additions or changes to, registration in or deletions from registers of births, deaths and marriages, or deeds (to be) registered therein, the court with jurisdiction in the area in which a deed has been or is to be registered shall have jurisdiction.
The leasing of built immovable property (Article 264 of the Code of Civil Procedure)
In cases concerning the leasing of built immovable property or part thereof, the court with jurisdiction in the area in which the leased property is situated shall have jurisdiction.
Guardianship, administration orders, mentorship (Article 266 of the Code of Civil Procedure).
In cases concerning guardianship, administration orders and mentorship, the court in the place where the individual in question lives shall have jurisdiction, or, in the absence of a place of residence in the Netherlands, the court in the place where said individual actually lives, shall have jurisdiction.
Absence, missing persons, determination of death (Article 267 of the Code of Civil Procedure)
In cases of absence, or where an individual is missing, the court in the place of residence left by the absentee or missing person shall have jurisdiction. The district court of The Hague shall be competent to determine said individual’s death.
In all of the cases referred to above, the district court of The Hague shall ultimately have jurisdiction where the provision in question fails to designate a competent court (Article 268 of the Code of Civil Procedure).
Pursuant to Article 108 of the Code of Civil Procedure, parties may submit a written choice of forum. A choice of forum is only possible in respect of legal relationships that are at the parties’ free discretion. Thus, in cases in which public order plays a role, it will not be possible to choose the forum applicable. This will apply in certain cases pertaining to family law and in cases involving bankruptcy and moratoriums on payment. In subdistrict court cases, the possibility to elect a forum is limited. For example, a choice of forum will not be possible in the case of claims up to € 5000.00 (regardless of the nature of the claim).
In principle, the court having jurisdiction according to a choice of forum shall have exclusive jurisdiction. The parties may explicitly agree that exclusive jurisdiction shall not apply.
In divorce cases (divorce, legal separation, dissolution of a registered partnership, the dissolution of a marriage following a legal separation), the special rule laid down in Article 270(2) of the Code of Civil Procedure shall apply. In accordance with this Article, the court not having territorial jurisdiction shall generally refer the case to the court that does have territorial jurisdiction. However, pursuant to Paragraph 2, this shall only apply in divorce cases where the respondent (the spouse against whom the action has been brought) disputes the jurisdiction of the court. Where the spouse fails to appear in court, or does appear but fails to dispute the jurisdiction of the court, the case may remain with the court that does not have territorial jurisdiction. This is referred to as an implied choice of forum.
Dutch procedural law does not provide for specialised courts. One could say that subdistrict courts are courts that specialise in labour cases and rent cases.
Last update: 19-07-2007