Legislators in the Netherlands have introduced a bill which seeks to concentrate the majority of Dutch maritime law cases in the Rotterdam District Court. It is expected that this will enhance the quality of justice and the efficiency of the judicial process, and further the development of knowledge and expertise of the Rotterdam District Court.
The bill to amend the Code of Civil Procedure deals with the issue of which court has territorial jurisdiction over specific disputes in the Netherlands. Based on the bill, the Rotterdam District Court either will have additional jurisdiction to hear cases involving maritime law or will be the only court with jurisdiction.
The bill merely amends Dutch procedural law and is without prejudice to, for example, the provisions of treaties and EU regulations. If, for instance, a jurisdiction clause in a commercial contract gives jurisdiction to the Amsterdam District Court, this choice of forum will not be affected by Dutch procedural law.
With effect from January 1 2013, the territorial division of the Dutch courts was amended by the Judicial Map (Revision) Act. As a result, there are now 11 courts, as opposed to the previous 19, with four courts of appeal (previously five). The changes were intended to enhance the quality of the judicial system. Due to the larger number of cases that they handle in specialised areas of law, the courts can develop more sophisticated legal expertise.
The reduced number of courts means that there is now less need to concentrate cases in specialised courts. However, in a limited number of legal areas, this need still exists. According to the Assessment Framework of Legal Concentration of the Council for the Judiciary, this is the case where a particular type of case requires special judicial expertise and at least one of the following conditions is fulfilled:
- A limited number of such cases are heard each year;
- The presence of partners (eg, specialised law firms and/or insurers) in a given location makes concentration in that location desirable; and
- Concentration would help to enhance the efficiency of proceedings.
Maritime law is one of those areas in which legal concentration is deemed desirable. It is a highly specialised subject and disputes are often complex. The Rotterdam District Court has both legal and substantive expertise and a good reputation in the field.
In commercial contracts concluded between Dutch and international parties, the Rotterdam court is regularly specified as the forum of choice, because of this expertise. The Rotterdam court already handles most maritime cases heard in the Netherlands. The Council for the Judiciary predicts that the concentration will involve a limited number – between 50 and 100 – of cases each year.
The presence of owners, stevedores, shipping agents, shipbuilders and specialised law firms in Rotterdam is a further argument in favour of the concentration of maritime cases at the Rotterdam District Court, where their handling by specialised judges should improve the efficiency of proceedings and assist the court in developing its specialist maritime legal expertise.
The concentration of shipping cases at the Rotterdam District Court has been a longstanding objective in judicial circles. The bill should have a positive effect on the Netherlands' position as a key transport hub.
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