Training of judges in Netherlands

by Sascha Dalen Gilhuijs

The protection of the environment is a hot topic. In a country like the Netherlands this is demonstrated by the PAS case, where the Administrative Jurisdiction Division of the Council of State ruled that the permit policy of the Dutch Government is not legally acceptable and is potentially harmful to Natura 2000 areas.

With the effect that a large number of building projects have been (temporarily) stopped. The PAS policy made it possible to give permits to economic activity when there where forecasts given of mitigating measures or circumstances that will restore the balance in nature. For example; you could get a permit to build a road claiming that cars in ten years would be much cleaner so there wouldn’t be irreparable damage.

These problems are not Dutch problems but European and even global problems.

Often these clashes between economic development and nature preservation end up on the plate of the Administrative Judge. Because of the fact that the stakes are so high, the battle in court is often a battle of opposing experts who represent the interest of parties with thick scientific reports. It is a recognized problem that judges, trained in the law, can be faced with a lack of knowledge in how to value this expertise.

This was a conclusion of the 2019 annual conference of EUFJE, the European Forum of Judges for the Environment.

Besides being able to consult judicial experts in the field if necessary, training in these subjects is very important. The STAB, a Dutch government funded foundation of Experts to advise the judiciary in above mentioned difficult cases, provides numerous workshops and training sessions for judges in planning and environmental law. These vary from basic to indepth level, to suit the demand of the court in question. Because of the immense workload of the judiciary in the Netherlands we visit the courts and organise these trainings locally. This also provides a confidential environment in which specific cases can be discussed freely. The topics vary from air quality, industrial (external) safety, nature protection, water and habitat, sound in all its complexity and can even focus on bats and their behaviour. Specific and hot topic is wood fire; there is heated debate on wood burners and fireplaces in the Netherlands in connection to health issues and particulate matter, the STAB has specialised in that issue recently.

With these trainings the judges can have a better understanding of the underlying science of what is presented to them in court and are better equipped to evaluate the technical reports on a basic level.   

Because of the fact that the environmental law is European law, STAB could teach these topics in all the European countries would there be a need. Sessions with other judicial experts in the field are also welcomed. We are working on our new website, there is no English or French content yet but if you are interested, contact STAB at info@stab.nl