We all come across it from time to time: the ‘general interest’. We balance the general interest against other (individual) interests. In the adjudicative process, when involved in making laws, policy or regulations. But also when we reflect upon prior judgments or measures taken. But do we actually know what ‘the general interest’ is, and how much weight it should be given? Looking at politics we must conclude that the general interest sometimes is nothing more than an instrument that helps in reaching a preferred solution. A ‘rhetorical trick’ to avoid complex discussions and to find the necessary consensus.
On Wednesday 12 December Leiden Law School will host the third annual Jonge NJV Seminar. Dutch jurists will gather to discuss ‘the general interest’ and the role it plays in law and legal reasoning. To kick off the debate three essays have been written by young jurists working in different fields of law. Anita van den Berg will present her ideas on the balance between the general interest and the individual interest when it comes to various integrity assessments (e.g. on the basis of the Bibob Act). She argues that the general interest that is served with these assessments is formulated in a vague manner. Individuals concerned are confronted with legal insecurity and Van den Berg gives suggestions for securing their interests in a more appropriate manner. Pim Geelhoed discusses the general interest in the context of criminal law, and moreover with a view to the multi-level character of our legal order. The Dutch ‘expediency principle’ (opportuniteitsbeginsel) refers to the ‘general interest’, but to what extent is this criterion coloured by European Union law? Geelhoed thinks the influence of the European Union is significant. Accordingly, decision makers should have enough room to take European requirements into account. Walter Dijkshoorn, finally, discusses the role of liability law when it comes to the promotion and protection of the general interest. Discussing the problem of ‘law enforcement gaps’, he stresses that it is not the task of liability law to step in and solve this.
The discussion will be led by Prof. Carel Stolker, who will not only give those who dissent with the essayists the opportunity to present their views, but will also address some more fundamental, underlying questions. Is it important to always know what the general interest in a concrete situation is? Or should we not problematize this notion too much so that we, jurists, can also benefit from its vagueness?
It is still possible to register for the Jonge NJV Seminar (which will be in Dutch). See www.jnjv.nl.