Court decisions in camera, when is this an option?
In the Netherlands, court decisions are public: judgments are available (anonymised) to anyone and can be requested from the Court. Moreover, in principle, anyone can attend a session of the Dutch Court, unless the law provides otherwise, but this only happens in exceptional cases. Procedural lawyer Thomas van Vugt explains how it works.
Dutch court decisions must be verifiable
The idea behind the public nature of court decisions is that they must be verifiable for the public. The adage “Justice must not only be done but seen to be done” is applicable to this. This precludes judges from having the freedom to dismiss cases without public scrutiny and guarantees confidence in the legal system. This required transparency is enshrined in our Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Exceptions: Dutch court decisions in camera
In some cases, hearings and judgments are not public. Hearings may be held in camera if this is in the interest of public order, morality, or state security, to protect the interests of minors, if the privacy protection of one of the parties is required, or if the public nature of the session would adversely affect the proper administration of justice, as provided in Article 27 DCCP.
Anonymization of judgments in the Netherlands
A slightly different criterion applies to judgments: in principle, they will also be public unless the clerk of the court believes that issuing the judgment should be withheld to protect the overriding interests of third parties, including the interests of the parties. In such cases, he will provide an anonymized copy of the judgment. Judgments appearing on rechtspraak.nl are nearly always anonymized. The legal system has drawn up special anonymization guidelines, which means that the names of natural persons (parties or stakeholders) are always anonymous, and those of legal entities only if their name can be used to identify a natural person (for example Jan Jansen Limited).
Dutch lawyer in civil cases in camera
Therefore, public access to hearings serves legal certainty: It makes Dutch court decisions transparent and verifiable, which benefits a fair administration of justice and precludes court decisions in backrooms without public scrutiny. The parties cannot stipulate that their case should be heard ‘in camera’: the judge will make this decision and only in exceptional cases.