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Horror Fines

Blog by: Simone ten Wolde, ALC student, LLM Private Law.

‘The use of coercive detention by the government for unpaid fines was a phenomenon unknown to me, until I participated in the Amsterdam Law Clinics. During the clinic, I conducted together with eight other students research upon the manner the insurance obligation for vehicles (Wet Mulder) is enforced by the Dutch government and resulting debt problems. Following an automated comparison of the registers, fines are imposed which are automatically increased in the event of non-payment, without the intervention of a human officer by whom the imposition of the fine is assessed. Individual cases, which formed the starting point of our research, showed that in distressing case the government made in a disproportionate manner use of powers of coercion, such as coercive detention. Our research was mainly focussed on unjustly imposed fines, unjustly increased fines and unjust use of powers of coercion. In addition we focussed on the lack of government-funded legal aid in the legal procedures in these kind of cases.

We conducted this research on commission of and in collaboration with the Public Interest Litigation Project (PILP), which main task is to initiatestrategic procedures in the interest of human rights in the Netherlands. PILP is a project of the Dutch section of the International Commission of Jurists (NJCM). Thanks to my participation in the clinic, I had the opportunity to see and learn about the usefulness, the necessity and the work ethics of public interest cases.

In the ALCs students work on real cases, which do not have a ready-made answer. This made the ALCs a challenging and enjoyable course for me.

It was interesting to investigate the legal aspect of this issue, approaching the legal questions concerned from different fields of law. The group consisted of students from several master tracks. We all were specializing ourselves in different fields of law and we all had our own preferences for sub-topics, thanks to this diversity in the group we were able to view this matter from different perspectives. This is what distinguishes this course from other, regular courses in the study.

In comparison with the regular courses of the study, a different manner of approaching is required for the work you have to do for the clinics. This strongly encouraged us to get from the legal framework to the core of the issue in order to formulate answers to the legal questions. We have had lectures and workshops on how to conduct research, specifically with regard to writing and research method, legal skills and ethics. During our research of real emerged legal questions we were expected to have a critical attitude towards the law. This in turn also shows the difference with the regular courses in the study, where you are expected to solve a fictitious judicial problem within a specific doctrine by applying the right rule. In the ALCs students work on real cases, which do not have a ready-made answer. This made the ALCs a challenging and enjoyable course for me, which I can recommend to every master student!’