A lawsuit in your neighborhood next to the vegetable gardens

Abuse, he thinks, is a very strong word. “If I was such a big bogeyman, why did the police let me go right after that?”

E. He is 27 years old. Suspected of hitting and pushing his girlfriend around Christmas last year. It was in the bathroom, I turned on the hot water tap in the kitchen, and the shower became cold. That turned into an argument, as he “physically reacted” to his girlfriend, Y said. to the police.

“What exactly happened?” asks Judge Samir Jabali.

“It was a reaction,” says E. “I’ve started, but I’m being looked at by all the action. If I start screaming, I’ll be the bogeyman.”

Judge Jabali says gently: ‘From the file, there is no picture of a bogeyman at all, you know. You were also seen injured.”

Residents of the vulnerable multicultural district of Venserpolder in Amsterdam Zuidoost who deal with the law usually face more than one problem. As it turns out during this neighborhood court hearing, it’s more informal than the regular court. Not in the dock but at an oval table with the judge, the clerk, the prosecutor and his attorney. He can tell his story widely.

His driver’s license was revoked a few years ago, E says, because the Central Driver’s Licensing Bureau (CBR) believed he was addicted to cannabis. It only works intermittently – in part due to losing his driver’s license. And the relationship with his girlfriend, with whom he had a two-year-old son, is difficult.

Despite the mediation process that resulted in a bona fide speech, he repeatedly complained during the hearing about her impossible behavior. His girlfriend was invited, but she did not come.

“Your son has to deal with two opposite parents,” says Jabali. “We can also say: Now we are going to stop this case, we will see if help can come?”

E: “I came to put this behind me. I want to continue, I want to work and be a father to my son.”

Attorney General: We want to prevent something like this from happening again.

Manon Almos Attorney J. You can also see this session as an opportunity to make better agreements, for example joint custody of your son.”

The neighborhood court in Venserpolder, which has been in operation since the beginning of this year, is not the first in the country. There is also one in Eindhoven, just like Rotterdam. But unlike Eindhoven, the sessions are actually held in the neighbourhood, in a neighborhood building next to a botanical garden. He deals with minor criminal cases: shoplifting, assault, and domestic violence – cases that usually end up in magistrates’ court. Condition: The crime must have been committed in Venserpolder. Or the suspect must live there.

Read also about the district court in Eindhoven: A second chance for the perpetrators, but the neighborhood hardly benefits

living world

It took project leader and judge Maria Litten a year and a half to learn about the neighborhood. In the council room, she says, the intent is that the informal environment of the neighborhood court “better reflects the people’s living environment, so that they can reconnect with law and justice.” It’s not about punishment, Lytten says, but above all about “solutions.”

In addition to the plenary sessions, every Monday afternoon Leijten holds special “preventive discussions” about truancy. Instead of going to the District Court, the judge tries to find a solution with the absent student, parents, attendance officer, and other authorities. Litten says the first results have been encouraging.

The neighborhood court also hears debt cases. Venserpolder residents are called every two weeks who are more than three months behind with their Achmea health insurance company. The idea: Debt with a health insurance company usually points to other financial problems—and the sooner you spot defaulters, the better you can help them. “People who are in debt wait on average five years before seeking help,” Lijten says. She copied the approach from the judges of the Amsterdam Sub-District Court, who worked in this way for a number of years.

On a Monday afternoon in April, seven locals came. The youngest is 18 years old, and the oldest is 50 years old. Their debts range from 750 to 3,500 euros. They have recently separated, lost their jobs, or suffered sickness benefits. Some speak frankly about their personal situation, others are embarrassed: “I think it is a shame to sit here,” said a man in his forties, who divorced the mother of his two daughters after ten years. “After a divorce, a lot of people take on debts, and that’s very normal,” says Lichten, who organizes these sessions himself.

In addition to the judge, writer and debtor, Claske de Haan of Ashmia and Fanny Jansen of debt counseling, sit at the oval table. “Do you have other debts?” Judge Litten asks everyone who appears. Then again: “Are you sure?”

If the debtor owes several powers, Judge Lytten will keep the case and the possibility of debt rescheduling will be examined. If this is the only debt, then the payment arrangement will be agreed on immediately. Janssen and the debtor sometimes go to the council room to calculate and discuss: What is a reasonable monthly amount? You cannot pay an amount that is too high, you are stuck endlessly with an amount that is too low.

Read also: The court is looking for solutions

Tuition fees

The 18-year-old H – glasses, sleek back hair, soft voice – has a bill owed of €1,119.12: insurance premiums, plus the deductible for her surgery. Her financial distress began with her college tuition fees. “I didn’t dare ask my father if he would pay for it.” She has since stopped studying and works as a caterer. You want to start another study in September.

“You won’t get the financial position you have now when you go back to college,” says De Haan of Acmea. “So I will do a higher monthly amount. You now have a chance to get rid of it in five months.” They come in at 150.59 euros per month.

“If it doesn’t work, call Acmea!” Judge Leijten H. tells when the settlement was signed. “That you don’t think will work. You are really getting in trouble with her.”

Not all debtors appeared this afternoon. Judge Litten says the turnout for debt cases in neighborhood court is about 50 percent. That sounds low, but it’s much higher than the “normal” court debtor turnout: 4 percent.

If the redneck appears, this is a win for everyone. Before a judge who can assess the seriousness of the situation. For the debtor himself, whose debt is not transferred to the collection agency – which quickly costs hundreds of extra euros. And for Achmea, which spends less time and administrative burden on going after defaulters.

But patience in the neighborhood court is endless. If people don’t come to court, Judge Letten isn’t very emotional: Go, just go to the debt collection agency. “I see no reason to call him again,” Leighten said of a gentleman who had not attended for the second time in a row—and he made no noise. “If he calls again, we can look further.”

C. It also does not appear at the agreed time. The writer says she tried to contact him six times – to no avail. “It’s a shame, because what I’m seeing here is getting exciting,” says De Haan of Achmea.

The writer called C straight away, apparently shocked at what she hears. “Government lifted due to inability to work… House evacuated… Missing person… Police investigation… Oh… Then I know enough.”

“It doesn’t make sense to send her another message, I suppose,” Liejten said as the clerk hung up.

De Han: “No, if we don’t even know where she is…”

Leijten, Dry: “I wish you were somewhere they couldn’t find it.”

Also read how Mayor Halsema in New York saw how Small courts worked

More than just a hit

Let’s return to the criminal case of E., who is on trial for assaulting his girlfriend. It’s time to judge. The prosecutor believes that it has been sufficiently proven that E. punched and punched his girlfriend in the face. “There was more than just a hit, but it still applies: Violence isn’t good, especially in relationships.” She’s asking for 40 hours of community service, fully conditional.

Judge Jabali shows his understanding of E’s frustration, and considers that it was proven that he hit his girlfriend, but that he acquitted him of the beating. E. He gets twenty hours of community service. Also conditional, with a two-year probationary period. “Just so you know: If I do this again, I will be punished.” Looking at E: “And I especially hope that things will remain calm between you and your girlfriend.”

“I definitely don’t agree with that,” E says, before turning away disappointedly.

Difficult, Jabali agrees then. “It would have been better if his girlfriend had come. Now he feels like he is taking the blame for everything.”

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