Courts must make case details and hearing dates public
In a groundbreaking ruling, the Supreme Court has ruled that Dutch courts must make case details public. This concerns details such as the parties involved, the status of the proceedings and hearing dates. The courts must also make their decisions public. The case file itself and the exchanged documents do not have to be made public.
It is currently difficult for third parties in the Netherlands to gain knowledge of ongoing court cases and obtain details of their current status. Admittedly, lawyers can consult the official case register, but only if they have a specific case number. Courts rarely provide details of cases over the phone to parties other than the litigants or their representatives. An exception is only made for the press.
Cassation in the interests of the law
All this will change with the judgment of the Supreme Court, which was prompted by the Advocate-General in an appeal in cassation in the interests of the law. The Supreme Court ruled that current practice is contrary to Article 6 of the ECHR and that the Dutch courts must disclose case details, subject to limited exceptions.
New and ongoing cases
Courts will be required to provide information on the time and place of public hearings, the cases to be heard and the name(s) of the judge(s). In addition, an overview of current cases must be published including the case number, the parties involved and the status of the proceedings. Personal data can be anonymised to ensure privacy.
The Supreme Court also considered that judgments should be issued in public, which means that anyone should be able to request a copy of a judgment. For example, people can ask the judge for all judgments in cases involving a particular party.
The Supreme Court expressly notes that courts are not required to provide other types of information, including on cases that have ended (without a judgment being rendered). Therefore, if the parties reach a settlement during the proceedings, it will not be publicly made known afterwards that there were ever any proceedings.
Third parties will now be better able to follow ongoing court cases. There are various reasons for wanting to follow certain cases: stakeholders may wish to stay informed about matters concerning legal or factual issues relevant to their company or to disputes involving the company. Companies may also be interested in lawsuits against competitors. Companies may wish to attend hearings related to specific cases, or to intervene in cases that directly affect their own interests.
On the other hand, litigants in the Netherlands must be aware that interested parties can, in principle, become acquainted with their process and observe the arguments during the oral hearing.
Behind closed doors
It remains possible to request that a case be handled behind closed doors. Faced with such a request, the court will weigh the interests of the openness of justice against the interests of confidentiality. It is also possible to prohibit parties from making statements about certain data (e.g. competitively sensitive information).
AMS Advocaten: experience with confidentiality of proceedings
If you have any questions regarding this judgment or have an interest in the confidentiality of a particular procedure, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We have knowledge and experience in this area.