Covid-19: Trials, MP debates canceled, NL stops taking in asylum seekers

Gavel with lady justice in the background
Gavel with lady justice in the backgroundPhoto: SergPoznanskiy/DepositPhotos

Stringent measures taken to battle the spread of coronavirus Covid-19 are affecting all aspects of the Netherlands. Most court cases and parliamentary debates have been canceled. Community service has been suspended. And the Netherlands is no longer taking in asylum seekers. Freelancers suddenly unable to go to work are also facing problems. 

The courts in the Netherlands will be closed as of Tuesday, with only the most urgent lawsuits still being handled, NOS reports. These involve cases in which a judicial decision cannot be delayed, because the rights of a suspect or litigant will be violated. These include, for example, the arraignment of suspects, bankruptcies, hearings on compulsory care, and family cases on out-of-home placements or supervision. No public will be allowed at these hearings, which will be held via video or telephone connection as much as possible.

The authorities will contact people who were scheduled to be involved in a lawsuit soon. Others are advised to keep an eye on rechtspraak.nl.

A spokesperson for the Central Netherlands Court confirmed to NOS that the sentencing of Gokmen T., the suspected gunman in a mass shooting on an Utrecht tram a year ago on Wednesday, will continue as planned on Friday. He could not yet say what that hearing will look like. "We are still discussing how and what."

Most of the debates in the Tweede Kamer, the lower house of Dutch parliament, will also be canceled in the coming weeks, Kamer president Khadija Arib said, NU.nl reports. Only necessary debates will continue, including one on the coronavirus scheduled for Wednesday. This decision was made in consultation with the leaders of the political parties. 

The Eerste Kamer, the Dutch Senate, will also be closed for the coming weeks. 

Minister Ferdinand Grapperhaus of Justice and Security is suspending the execution of community service sentences from Monday until at least April 6, he announced in a letter to parliament, according to NU.nl. Community service in many social locations, such as care homes, can no longer be carried out. And as the probation service will likely suffer from staff shortages in the coming time, community service at its own locations is no longer responsible, he said.

Grapperhaus also announced that asylum seekers and other foreign nationals arriving in the Netherlands will no longer be admitted to reception locations run by the central agency for the reception of asylum seekers COA. Immigration and nationalization service IND will also stop performing identification, registration and hearings in the coming period. The Minister did not say what will happen to asylum seekers, only promised "further elaboration as soon as possible". 

The coronavirus and measures taken around it are impacting the Netherlands' about 1 million freelancers - self-employed people without employees. But they cannot count on the government jumping to their aid, according to Minister Eric Wiebes of Economic Affairs on television program WNL op Zondag. "It will mean a decline in income for many freelancers. They also opted for this themselves," he said. "The freelancers have said themselves that they do not want permanent employment. These people have consciously taken that risk themselves."

He pointed out that freelancers can also make use of tax cuts the government announced last week, to help entrepreneurs struggling due to the coronavirus. They cannot make use of the extension of working time reduction, a regulation that allows employees to keep their jobs using public money. But they can use the the so-called Bbz, an existing scheme for self-employed persons who run into financial difficulties. If they meet the conditions, freelancers can make use of this scheme by contacting their municipality. 

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