Too many people are not being protected by the law, report says

Many homes in Groningen have become uninhabitable.
Many homes in Groningen have become uninhabitable.

The rule of law in the Netherlands is in a “state of neglect” and a sizeable number of citizens are not being protected either by or from the government, according to a government commission.

“Too often, [the committee] has heard reports of government using legal procedures to defer difficult political decisions,” the report, entitled “Broken promises and the rule of law, said. “Each time this is at the expense of the rights of (prospective) citizens.”

The commission was set up in February 2023 in the wake of the childcare benefit scandal and the chaos surrounding compensating people whose homes were damaged by drilling for gas in Groningen.

The nine-member commission included lawyer Eva González Perez who had a central role in uncovering the extent of the childcare benefit scandal, in which thousands of families were accused of fraud and ended up facing financial hardship and ruined lives.  

The commission concluded there is a yawning divide between government and its citizens who find themselves in vulnerable positions. In particular, the threshold for resorting to the law has become too high for many because of the lack of investment in state-funded legal aid lawyers, the report said.

In addition, regulations are difficult to understand, procedures too bureaucratic and people who are looking for help are sent from pillar to post, and have to find their way through a maze of officialdom. Instead of finding support from the government, they encounter ‘indifference and reluctance” and have become afraid of the institutions set up to protect them. 

These findings are not new but do show that recommendations made in previous reports have not led to improvements in the way government works, the commission said. “The rule of law is in a state of neglect.”

In concrete terms, the government needs to set up a new agency that should report back to parliament on citizens rights every year.

Civil servants need improved awareness and government agencies should be able to issue a “red card” if government policy is impossible to implement. In addition, the rules for income support should be simplified, the commission said.

Costs

In all, the improvements will cost some €1.5 billion, the commission said. It will be up to the next government, a right-wing alliance, to decide whether or not to act on the recommendations.

Last month, the three Dutch ombudsman organisations said existing laws and regulations provide the government with enough room to solve people’s problems yet too often officials introduce even more regulations and complex processes instead.

The National Ombudsman, Ombudsman for Children and the Ombudsman for Veterans focus on the “citizens perspective” in their 2023 annual report, calling on government and officials to engage in more personal contact and listen to people’s direct needs.

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Categories: Dutch News, Shame on You
Anton Nieuwenhuizen

Written by:Anton Nieuwenhuizen All posts by the author

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