The state must not stop with Pels Rijcken, but must also introduce other offices

Working with an established law firm has benefits for the state, but variety is wise. This is the conclusion of the ‘Committee for legal services to the state’, which was set up after the fraud at Pels Rijcken came to light in 2021.

The Committee on State Legal Services presented its findings to the House of Representatives on December 6. The committee – which was set up on 19 May – was chaired by Jos Silvis, former attorney general at the Supreme Court.

The committee has investigated how the state can be assisted by lawyers. The fraud of at least 11 million euros, perpetrated by the late Frank Oranje – former chairman of the board and notary of Pels Rijcken – had, after all, raised concerns about this office to which the national attorney has traditionally been associated.

In the study, the starting point for the government was that the state should provide independent legal advice (a different opinion) must be able to achieve, especially in politically-administratively sensitive issues. In addition, the ‘Silvis committee’ was asked, among other things, to look at alternatives. For example, that the public sector itself must employ lawyers, and the possibility of subcontracting this work to market parties. The report now presented therefore provides answers.

Not desirable

For example, the committee recommends in the report, which counts more than 150 pages, that a national institute for legal aid as part of the state is not desirable, but that lawyers employed in the public sector fulfill a useful function.

“When an institute is established for the purpose of full service legal aid to the state, a tension may arise between instrumental political desires and the independence of state attorneys,’ the report states. ‘It is therefore not expected that government lawyers in employment will be able to fully replace the (external) national lawyers in practice.’

Retain public prosecutor

According to the committee, external legal services will continue to be necessary, especially due to mandatory legal representation, legal advice or a second opinion. In addition, there are advantages to working with a firm of lawyers – due to the immediate availability of experienced lawyers who know the national government well – and the committee sees no reason to stop with Pels Rijcken.

“The committee notes that the state attorney’s office has evolved over the years to meet the state’s needs. Specialists are immediately available for virtually all areas of law required,” the report states.

According to the Silvis committee, a permanent confidential adviser for legal services to the state should not be questioned either. ‘Retain the title ‘State Attorney’, they say. Reimer Veldhuis, partner at Pels Rijcken, is currently entitled to this title by royal decree.’

Other offices

The committee recognizes the risk of over-reliance on Pels Rijcken and therefore advises the state to also involve other law firms. The importance of ‘professionalisation of commissioning’ is emphasized.

According to the committee, the state must ensure central coordination and an overview of purchased legal services and pending cases. This “partly with a view to strengthening the institutional memory of the state and adequate monitoring and evaluation of the services”.

Furthermore, detailed agreements must be made with the state attorney. For example, about a possible termination of the relationship with the public sector: “The agreement with the state attorney must allow for a dissolution mechanismwhereby the state and the office make clear agreements on a smooth transition when the contractual relationship ends in whole or in part’.

Finally, the committee acknowledges that Pels Rijcken has taken steps after the outcome of the fraud with millions. For example, the company has divested its notary practice, set up a supervisory board, compensated the damage caused by the fraud, and the agreement between the state and the state attorney has now been supplemented with agreements on better control and responsible management.

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