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User-friendly Private Law

Good societal governance means that the laws are user-friendly (in Dutch: hanteerbaar), that is to say: simple, fair, modern, effective and accessible. One might argue that if the laws do not meet these standards the principle of the rule of law becomes devoid of meaning.
The present research programme analyses private law from the perspective of the needs of those utilizing private law: judges, lawyers, businesses or consumers. This approach to private law has been informed by many and well known trends in present day society: such as instrumentalization, individualization & normative fragmentization, globalization & Europeanization. All of these trends have changed our perspective on laws in general and private law in particular. It has led to the demise of the idea of private law as a body of coherent rules and has caused us to view private law as a facilitating tool in the hands of those utilizing it.

The two-fold general research question for this programme can be stated as follows:

  1. To what extent is Dutch and European private law user-friendly for each of the actors that must deal with it (businesses, natural persons, lawyers, courts, and the government as policymaker)?  Of course, the meaning of the term ‘user-friendly’ will also be investigated in this connection.
  2. Insofar as private law is not as user-friendly as it should be:
    - how can this be improved?
    - and who should ensure this (national or European courts or legislatures), or should this be achieved through some other means, such as self-regulation?

It should be stressed that the focus on user-friendliness does not imply a moral stance . We do not think that user-friendliness outweighs values such as efficiency, efficacy, justice (in the sense of Einzelfallgerechtigkeit) or protection of weaker parties, but aim to investigate when the importance of user-friendliness should prevail and when not.

To encourage cooperation among the various participating sub-fields (tort & contract law, property law, family law, civil procedure, notarial law and legal history), the research programme has opted for a thematic design. The themes that will be further explored are:

  1. Modernization & Sustainability: to what extent do modern developments such as digitalization and the current demand for sustainability compel private law rules to change and if so what is the role of user-friendliness?
  2. Effectuation of the law: what is the user-friendliness of legal proceedings and legal work processes and to what extent should user-friendliness give in to other considerations?
  3. Europeanization: to what extent are the legal complications due to EU law undesirable from the viewpoint of user-friendliness and if so, what can be done about it?
  4. Legal principles: what are the legal principles that have informed our present rules of private law, what is their history and what is there relevance today in the light of demands of user-friendliness?

In addressing these questions information derived from the following three sources will be used: comparative legal analysis, historical method, and information from Dutch legal practice (case law, parliamentary deliberations, reports and studies by consumer watchdogs, quantitative data such as surveys, and interviews).

What research method (traditional legal research or empirical methods) will be adopted in an individual research project is determined by the research question that needs to be answered.
Last modified:11 April 2019 11.52 a.m.