On Tuesday, February 16, I was in a telephone call with a client. He wanted to start legal proceedings against the municipality of The Hague. “Think carefully about what you’re getting into,” I told him. “You hardly ever win a procedure against the municipality or the state.”
“I have the idea that judges usually choose the safe way in such cases,” I continued. “Even if you are already successful and a decision is overturned by the judge, then usually a new, amended decision follows. And eventually you draw the short straw.”
The call had barely disconnected before a special report seemed to belie my words. Breaking news! Summary proceedings judge Mr. Hoekstra-van Vliet, in response to a claim by Willem Engel (of action group Virus Truth), had put an end to the criticised curfew, thereby not choosing the safe route. Rutte, Grapperhaus, the Outbreak Management Team and Willem Engel himself were all completely surprised.
Subsequently, a scenario unfolded that you rarely see in day-to-day legal practice. The state asked for a so-called urgent appeal. Such a request is not often honoured, but now it occurred immediately. Moreover, within the framework of that urgent appeal, a request was made to suspend execution of the earlier summary judgment, and it turned out that the judges of the court of The Hague had found a hole in their agenda that same evening to deal with the claim.
Under the leadership of the steadfast chairman, Mr. Tan-de Sonnaville, a legal spectacle unfolded. A screaming Willem Engel, a request to launch a legal challenge, a challenge room that was fortunately ready to reject the request, and to top it all off, the entrance of Professor Jaap van Dissel. He was given an unannounced platform to argue substantive scientific points, while the procedure dealt with a technical-legal topic.
Meanwhile, the talk shows featured the “usual suspects”: criminal lawyers and crime journalists, unhindered by any knowledge of the matter. They looked learned, pulled their frugal mouths and avoided substantive questions.
After the court of The Hague ordered the suspension of the enforceability of the summary judgment, the sequel was somewhat predictable. An emergency law was hastily put together to legitimise the curfew. A week later, the court of The Hague overturned the earlier summary judgment of the court.
And so everything remained as it was. The curfew ticked on quietly and Willem Engel still drew the short straw.
This column was written for Den Haag Central, in which Raymond de Mooij writes monthly about what he experiences in his practice.