Cutting the expenses for the judiciary: a detrimental Dutch experience.
We bring to your attention an article prepared especially for the Ukrainian prosecutors’ community by Henk Marquart Scholtz, an honorary member of the International Association of Prosecutors (IAP), an IAP senator, a former IAP Secretary General and a member of the Groningen Provincial Parliament in The Netherlands
Henk Marquart Scholtz
In 2010, the first government was formed under prime-minister Rutte, existing of leftist-liberals and christen-democrats. This government lasted about one and a half year and was succeeded by three more governments under this prime-minster, composed of different parties, as per definition in Dutch politics one has to form coalition governments because of the relative small number of seats most parties have in parliament.
In 2010, after the financial crisis of 2008-2009, the slogan was: economizing, cutting budgets of all ministries and screwing back the budget of the judiciary and the public prosecution. These last cuts in expenses also were argumented with the so called shrinking statistical number of crimes. In reality, there was no decrease in crime at all, but an increase in numbers and in particular in the seriousness of crime.
(For example: in the statistics there were not any more comprised bicycle-thefts –about 100.000! annually- representing an increasing value as many bicycles nowadays in Holland are electric ones, costing around 2000 euro).
So what happened? The public prosecution service was told it had to economize 25% of its budget. As a result, many of the staff-lawyers, who prepared cases for the prosecutors, were fired or stationed somewhere else in governmental service. In addition, the number of prosecutors did not increase in relation to the number of crimes. This led during the 10 following years to a fast-growing workload, which caused huge backlogs.
Because of cuts in the budgets of the courts during that same period.
(32 million euro in 2017, increasing to 88 million euro in 2020) also, the courts were understaffed and lacked a sufficient number of judges.
A telling example of this was the news in December 2017 that the Court of Appeal in Arnhem had a backlog of 5.000 cases, which led to the situation that suspects who appealed against their verdict in first instance had to wait for the case to come on for trial at the Court of Appeal for at least a year.
In March 2020 the chair of the council of Prosecutors-General stated publicly that 22.700 criminal cases were “lying on the shelf” because of a lack of capacity in the courts. Of these cases, which are being delayed, there are 2200 criminal cases of more serious crime, in which a prosecutor would have asked the court for a sentence of at least 1 year in prison.
Needless to say that these massive delays in adjudication were very bitter for victims, who in many cases have to wait for a long time until justice is done.
Because of the practical closedown of the courts in the spring of 2020, as a consequence of the Chinese flu, the backlog of 22.700 cases increased to 50.000 cases today.
All these cuts in the budgets of the judiciary and prosecution service were decided upon by stupid politicians, ministers as well as members of parliament, who do not have a clue of which disaster they are causing.
Judges and prosecutors are working under high pressure nowadays. During the years 2010-2016, I acted as a judge (part-time) in courts of appeal, and noticed that many cases were brought by the prosecution for adjudication, while the case was incomplete, documents were missing and often by a prosecutors who hardly had found the time to study the case properly, with the consequence that many unassay acquittals took place. Quality has gone down the drain!
In my opinion, it is a task of great importance for the prosecution service, and of course, in particular for its top, to influence politicians – who know nothing – and convince them of the crucial importance of a good functioning prosecution service and judiciary. In Holland, the chief Prosecutor-General gave an interview to the press and made clear how worrisome the present situation is. I am glad he did so, for during many years the prosecution service meekly agreed to all these stupid cuts, because of its dog-like loyalty to the government.
It seems that there is some awareness growing with the politicians that things cannot go on like this, and some of them speak out for a slight increase of the budget, but as there are general elections in March 2021 it is very well possible that this is just election-rhetoric.
It has to be feared that, even when sufficient money is available for the judiciary and the prosecution service, it will take at least 3-5 years before things are back to normal and the backlogs will have disappeared.
Seen in an international perspective one could argue that because of these budget cuts article 6.3 of the IAP Standards is violated, which states;
(Prosecutors are entitled…)
6.3 to reasonable conditions of service and adequate remuneration, commensurate with the crucial role performed by them and not to have their salaries or other benefits arbitrarily diminished;
Also, Recommendation 2000(19) of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe on the role of the public prosecution in the criminal justice system, article 4, states:
Safeguards provided to public prosecutors for carrying out their functions
4. States should take effective measures to guarantee that public prosecutors are able to fulfil their professional duties and responsibilities under adequate legal and organizational conditions as well as adequate conditions as to the means, in particular budgetary means, at their disposal. Such conditions should be established in close co-operation with the representatives of public prosecutors.