In the Netherlands a specific small claims procedure exists in the sub-district court. The procedure is quicker than for claims with a higher value. In the sub-district court litigants can represent themselves; there is no obligation to engage a lawyer. Dutch legislation contains a number of special procedural conditions applying to certain financial claims or claims arising from particular types of agreement.
At first instance the sub-district court has jurisdiction over:
These procedures are started by a writ of summons, with the exception of the termination of an employment contract for serious reasons, which involves lodging an application.
For those wishing to recover a small claim through the courts, proceedings in the sub-district court are the only option. If such a claim is entered in the civil division of the district court the latter has no jurisdiction in principle to hear it. In practice, the matter will be referred to the sub-district court. If, in a case like this, the civil division mistakenly omits to refer the matter to the sub-district court and rules on the claim, this does not invalidate the judgment.
There are no special forms that have to be used in a case before the sub-district court. The writ of summons, however, must meet certain conditions and must be served on the defendant by a bailiff.
In sub-district court cases the parties can represent themselves; they do not have to appoint a lawyer. However, if they so wish they can obtain assistance or be represented by an authorised agent or lawyer. Anyone is allowed to provide assistance or act as an authorised agent.
The difference between providing assistance and acting as an authorised agent is that in the former case the party must also be present during the proceedings at the hearing, whereas if an authorised agent has been appointed the party does not have to attend. Neither the judge in the sub-district court nor the clerk of the court provides help for procedural matters.
The normal rules of evidence apply to small claims. See the page on the taking of evidence and mode of proof.
After the writ of summons the parties in a case before the sub-district court can state their views orally or in writing (given that they are not required to engage a lawyer to represent them).
The case can be dealt with orally at the hearing. The disadvantage of an oral defence is that there is no certainty that the representations made orally will actually be recorded in the file. This will depend on the notes made during the hearing. The judge in the sub-district court therefore often gives those who express their views orally the opportunity to set down their position on paper as well. In the more complex cases, in particular, parties are advised to present their views in writing, rather than orally.
The case can be dealt with in writing either at the hearing or by submitting written documents to the registry before the date set by the court. The latter is referred to as a postal procedure.
After the writ of summons and the written statement of defence a hearing is normally held, at which the parties appear in person and can be questioned by the judge. Alternatively, the judge can offer the parties the chance to enter further written statements, i.e. to respond again in writing. In this case, each party is entitled to a further oral pleading, if it feels the need to explain its case orally. The parties are not obliged to make use of this opportunity.
The sub-district court’s judgment must satisfy the general requirements applying to a court judgment. The judgment must therefore state the parties, the proceedings, the claim and the parties’ written statements, the grounds for the decision, the decision itself, the judge's name and the date of the judgment.
The general rule is that the costs have to be paid by the unsuccessful party. “Costs” means the costs of the other party. In practice, the unsuccessful party never has to pay all the legal costs of the successful party. Dutch legislation operates a flat-rate system for this. The costs awarded never contain more than a certain proportion of the successful party’s legal costs, based on the number of services performed (written statement/oral pleading/court appearance and the importance of the case). The successful party will, therefore, still have to pay a proportion of the costs it incurred.
A distinction should be made between the costs of proceedings and extra-judicial costs of legal assistance and other expert assistance. The rules on procedural costs apply only to costs relating to conducting the proceedings. A distinction must also be made between the costs specified in the judgment (the costs that are reimbursed) and the costs incurred after the judgment (follow-up costs), such as the costs of serving the judgment. These are payable by the unsuccessful party.
If the judge in the sub-district court considers certain costs to have been unnecessary they will not be charged to the unsuccessful party. The judge may also limit the costs. The judge may also divide the costs incurred on both sides between the parties.
It is only possible to appeal against a decision by the sub-district court if the claim (or interest) is worth more than €1 750.
The deadline for appeals is three months from the date of the judgment. The appeal is initiated by a writ of summons. In appeal proceedings the parties must always be represented by a lawyer.
Application procedures are governed by Articles 358-362 of the Code of Civil Procedure.
The legislation relating to sub-district court cases may be found in Overheid.nl.
For information about the judiciary, such as the different jurisdictions and the addresses of all the courts in the Netherlands see.
Last update: 16-11-2006