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Impact: Dealing with complainants who make repeated use of the disciplinary rules for lawyers

Nominee Ben Feringa Impact Award 2023 | Category student
08 May 2023
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Nine van den Wijngaard

In the coming weeks the nominees for the Ben Feringa Impact Award (BFIA) 2023 will introduce themselves and their impactful research or project. This week: Nine van den Wijngaard, nominee in the category student for her master thesis, 'Complaining about lawyers as occupational therapy'

Who are you?

My name is Nine van den Wijngaard. I was born and bred in Texel, and moved to Groningen to go to university. I’ve been living in The Hague since September 2022, because I’m working as a trainee in drafting legislation for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I am also taking a post-graduate Master’s programme in Legislation at the Academy for Legislation.

At which faculty?

I took the Master’s degree programme in Constitutional and Administrative Law at the Faculty of Law. But before this, I studied Middle Eastern Studies at the Faculty of Arts.

What can you tell us about your research?

My research is about dealing with persistent complainants who make repeated use of the disciplinary rules for lawyers. Every year, the deans of the local Bar Associations have to deal with numerous complaints. It is obviously important that people are able to lodge their complaints. Disciplinary law was introduced to represent the general interest: to give people faith in the quality and integrity of the lawyers they encounter. This interpretation of the aim of disciplinary law is reflected in the ease with which people can invoke a complaints procedure.
However, one of the consequences is that a significant number of the complaints received are lodged by a relatively small group of individuals intent on vindication and retribution: the persistent complainants. I examined the legal options open to the deans to tackle these persistent complainants. I conducted my research within a framework formed by the Lawyers Act, the aim and nature of the disciplinary rules procedure, and the role of the deans. I eventually explored a large number of options, on which I based my recommendations. I also reflected upon the question: ‘Why is it so difficult to tackle these persistent complainants?’

Which aspects of this research generate impact, and how will it help society?

My research resulted in recommendations aimed at limiting the demands that these persistent complainants make on deans, without prejudicing other complainants. I included a practical list of dos and don’ts for dealing with this difficult group of complainants. But I added gravitas to the research by examining the background of statutory provisions and legal systems, aimed at making better use of the current possibilities of the Lawyers Act in terms of tackling persistent complainants. The Lawyers Act is currently being revised, whereby the Bar Association can make its wishes regarding handling complaints known to the Ministry of Justice and Security. The aim is to save time and money, and to broaden support for disciplinary law among lawyers. This research can also be seen in a broader context; persistent complainants are not unique to the disciplinary law system. There are other procedures in which private complainants or petitioners interfere with the process of law by submitting multiple complaints or petitions.  

What was your personal motivation for this research, and what has it taught you?

When it was time to write my Master’s thesis, I wanted a proper assignment for my research, so that it would be useful to society and not simply disappear into a drawer. My thesis supervisor, Rianne Herregodts, specializes in disciplinary law. At the request of Eef van de Wiel, chair of the council of deans and dean in the Northern Netherlands, she asked me to look into the problems that persistent complainants are causing the deans. The idea of researching this fired me up straight away, although it also posed quite a challenge. I didn’t know anything at all about the subject when I started, as disciplinary law isn’t on the curriculum. My first job was to explore the material and get some practical experience, so that my recommendations would be fair to the complainants, while also making it feasible to impose the law. I have learned to transform problems from the field into practical solutions and recommendations, which can be applied directly where possible, and will prove useful to the professional field. This has made me even more enthusiastic about my current specialism: writing legislation.  

Overview nominees Ben Feringa Impact Award 2023

Last modified:25 May 2023 2.10 p.m.
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