’More constitutional awareness is important for public trust’

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How can fundamental rights contribute to public trust in government? How can we strengthen our constitutional structures so that they can meet the challenges of our times? Sound awareness of the relationship between freedom, fundamental rights, and the law is important for our trust in and the trustworthiness of the government. This is argued by Professor of Dutch and European constitutional law Ingrid Leijten. She will present her inaugural address at Tilburg University on Friday, April 14, 2023.

Freedom, fundamental rights, and the law are connected, Ingrid Leijten explains. Legislation is necessary to give shape to fundamental rights, which are neither absolute rights nor independent of other fundamental and other rights and interests. This means, for instance, that far-reaching measures to reduce climate change that limit our freedoms can nevertheless be justified. But it also means that, in public decision making, adequate weight must be given to the fundamental interests of citizens. However, the Dutch childcare benefit scandal and the exploitation of the Groningen gas field show that this does not always happen.

Constitutional awareness

Sound awareness of the relationship between freedom, fundamental rights and the law is important for our trust in and the trustworthiness of the government, she argues. This holds all the more in times of polarization, misinformation, inequality, and information asymmetry. To that end, our constitutional awareness should be strengthened, as well as the legal constitutional culture.

Relational perspective

For this purpose, Leijten will study how our constitution can do more justice to relationships between people: relationships of care, of power, and of inequality, people’s relationships with nature, relationships between government authorities, and those between government and citizens. The law inevitably shapes these relationships; the question is whether and how constitutional law could do this in a better way, especially with a view to the crises and challenges we face.

Prof. Ingrid Leijten studied Law and Political Sciences at Leiden University and Columbia Law School in New York. After she passed the New York Bar Exam, she earned her PhD in 2015, based on a study of the core rights and the protection of social rights by the European Court of Human Rights. She subsequently worked as an Assistant and Associate Professor of Constitutional and Administrative Law at the Leiden Faculty of Law. In 2019, she was a visiting professor at the Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nuremberg in Germany. Ingrid Leijten is a member of the editorial board of the Nederlands Tijdschrift voor de Mensenrechten (NTM/NJCM-Bulletin), the European Yearbook of Constitutional Law, Uitleg van de Grondwet and the blog section of Nederlandrechtsstaat.nl. She is also a steering committee member of the Benelux Chapter of the International Society of Public Law (ICON-S) and serves on the board of the Staatsrechtkring (Dutch Association of Constitutional Law). She also makes the podcast series Ons goed recht.

Leijten has been affiliated to Tilburg Law School as Professor of Dutch and European Constitutional Law since January 1, 2022. At the end of March, she became a member of The Young Academy of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW), a position she also wants to use to raise awareness of the way in which a state under the rule of law functions.

Inaugural address

Prof. Ingrid Leijten will present her inaugural address, entitled Grondrechten, grondvertrouwen en de relationele constitutie [Fundamental rights, basic trust and the relational constitution] in the Auditorium on Friday, April 14, 2023, at 16:15 hrs. The ceremony can also be watched via a live stream.