From government formation to neighbor dispute: New democratic contract can solve conflicts

- EN - NL

Our legal order and democracy must be modernized. We have to ensure that we can continue to make acceptable decisions when interests clash. In the Netherlands, legal complexity and polarization have brought national decision-making to a standstill. Too many people suffering from conflict at home, at work, or in their business are unable to resolve their dispute. We need a new democratic contract to resolve conflicts, argues Maurits Barendrecht. On Friday, May 17, he will hold his valedictory address as Professor of Innovation of Justice Systems at Tilburg University, entitled ’Responsief recht... hoe werkt dat’ Een democratisch contract om conflicten op te lossen’ [People-centered justice... how does that work’ A democratic contract to resolve conflicts].

In his address, Maurits Barendrecht will summarize insights on innovation of justice systems. The most salient insight’ Innovation does not happen. No institution is tasked with continuously improving the systems of our democratic order. State powers muddle along in elected and independent bodies that produce, implement, and enforce an excess of regulations, whereas people mainly need practical solutions that allow them to move forward, according to Barendrecht.

"The freedom of association has resulted in opaque lobbying and freedom of speech has created platforms that trade in outrage. As floating voters, as persons seeking justice, and as participants in social democracy, citizens are losing out. Worldwide, democracy and the rule of law are in decline."

Organizations like the EU and the OECD strongly recommend improving the democratic contract. Studies and data show a clear picture: people need interventions that ensure they are heard and that enable them to agree on fair outcomes.

People-centered justice

Barendrecht shows how people-centered justice is implemented by third parties who bring balance in the key relationships in people’s lives, for instance, relationships in the family, at work, in business, in the neighborhood, and in contexts like housing, finance, and safety. These relationships are the main arenas for conflict, both politically and in personal life, because it is in those relationships that people depend on each other for most of their prosperity and happiness.

People-centered justice means identifying underlying needs, exploring solutions, finding fair ways to distribute costs and compensation, using the energy and commitment of the citizens involved. We know what works. Every type of conflict has been resolved before. Judges, authorities, and elected representatives are now stuck in procedures for evaluating wrongdoing. To be able to fulfill their roles as third parties, they must be able to deliver seamless pathways to solutions. From government formation to solving a neighbor dispute, we can do a lot better.

Symposium and valedictory address

    Prof. Maurits Barendrecht will hold his valedictory address, entitled ’Responsief recht... hoe werkt dat’ Een democratisch contract om conflicten op te lossen’ [People-centered justice... how does that work’ A democratic contract to resolve conflicts], on Friday, May 17, 2024 at 16:15 hrs. in the Auditorium. The speech can also be watched via livestream.

    Before the address, a symposium on the same theme will take place: Responsief recht.... hoe werkt dat’ (in Dutch). At Maurits Barendrecht’s invitation, twelve experts will discuss ways in which conflicts over clashing interests have been resolved.

Maurits (J.M.) Barendrecht is Professor of Innovation of Justice systems at Tilburg Law School. After a career in the legal profession, he obtained a cum laude PhD in 1992 with a thesis on law as a model of justice. He has been a Professor of Private Law since January 1, 1993. He led an award-winning research program, Justice Needs in Private Law, as part of which a method was developed to measure the fairness of procedures. A recurring question in his research is how justice systems can be open to innovation based on what works for people, informed by scientific insights and best practice

As a member of government committees and of the Dutch Council for Social Development (Raad voor de Maatschappelijke Ontwikkeling RMO), he has advised the government on large-scale restorative justice, polarization, access to justice, and the connection between criminal justice and forensic care. As a specialist in the field of socially effective administration of justice, he has participated in numerous studies and improvement projects, in the areas of legal aid, personal injury, divorce, and criminal law. In the last decade, he has mainly worked at the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law (HiiL) on the international development of people-centered justice (responsief recht).