Half of the public prosecutors and judges in the Netherlands have faced threats at some point in their career, while one in 10 have refused a case because of personal safety considerations, a survey by Investico and weekly De Groene Amsterdammer has shown.
The Netherlands has some 2,500 judges and 900 public prosecutors and around 400 took part in the survey. It is the first time the impact of violence and threats aimed at the legal profession has been measured on this scale.
Of the prosecutors, two-thirds had experienced threats, ranging from online intimidation and aggression in the courtroom to doorstepping.
A third of the threats were connected with organised crime cases, the most notorious example of which is the ongoing Marengo trial against 17 defendants suspected of 13 gangland killings.
Three people have been murdered in the course of the investigation and trial, among them crime journalist Peter R de Vries and lawyer Derk Wiersum. Judges and prosecutors involved in the case are almost all under police protection.
Some 40% of prosecutors and judges said they felt less safe over the last five years, resulting in some cases being handled by more than one person to avoid a single name appearing on the file.
“I used to do my job without a thought for safety, that is no longer the case,” one public prosecutor said.
Almost one in 10 of the respondents has refused a high-impact case, the survey showed. “I have a young family, let others take those cases. Since the murder of Derk Wiersum I’m putting myself first,” one judge said. Some 8% of the respondents have thought of leaving the profession.
The large majority of prosecutors and judges said they are worried about the increasingly violence used against officials. “It seems we are fighting a losing battle with us using water pistols against people with automatic rifles. We are extremely poorly equipped to wage this battle in an equal way,” one prosecutor said.
The findings are in line with an earlier survey conducted by the Dutch association for the judiciary NVvR. “The sheer number of threats is astounding,” chairman Marc Fienstra told broadcaster NOS.
Measures that are being considered include extra financial compensation and a pool of judges for high-risk cases, which Fienstra said, are not limited to gangland crime but can also include child custody cases.
The public prosecution office said the increasingly unsafe environment in the judiciary is a result of the “polarisation in society” which is also affecting other professionals, such as journalists, politicians and lawyers.
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