Referring to a Dutch court of appeal

On 29 January 2014, there was an article on with this headline: “Netherlands court orders end to Pirate Bay ban”. Later in the article, the court is referred to as “a Dutch court” and “the Hague Appeals Court”. Googling around, I found an Associated Press story that also used “Dutch appeals court”.

The name of this court of appeal in Dutch is “Gerechtshof Den Haag” or more formally “Gerechtshof ‘s-Gravenhage”. The Dutch court system does not have formal English names for its courts, but this name is conventionally translated into English as “The Hague Court of Appeal”, not “The Hague Court of Appeals”, “The Hague Appeals Court” or anything else.

The international standard wording here is “court of appeal”, not “court of appeals”. The use of “appeals” in a court’s name is found only in the US, not in the UK and other English-speaking countries. There is no specific reason for American-oriented translations to be used for Dutch legal institutions. “Court of appeals” is too American.

The rule in English—see Garner, for example—is that a court name including the wording “Court of Appeal” is referred to as an “appeal court” and “Court of Appeals” as an “appeals court”. So “The Hague Court of Appeal” should be described as an “appeal court”.

By the way, “a ruling by the The Hague Court of Appeal” is not right. As correctly styled in the BBC and AP articles, this becomes “a ruling by the Hague Court of Appeal”. Remove the “The”.

Of course, “Netherlands court” is as wrong as saying “Germany court” or “France court”. But that’s a huge subject for another post.

Those who care about how the Dutch courts and the rest of the Dutch legal system are referred to in English will not be surprised by these mangled references. It’s somewhat of a free-for-all. The problem is the lack of a style guide. Even though the Dutch legal community is operating bilingually, it’s all unofficial and without style guidance. It’s perhaps wise of government officials to refrain from issuing statements about English names and style, especially in a culture of idiosyncratic translation. However, a credible style guide is desperately needed. (I’m working on one.)

To summarise, here’s what to use:

  • The Hague Court of Appeal
  • a ruling by the Hague Court of Appeal
  • a Dutch court
  • a Dutch court of appeal
  • a Dutch appellate court
  • a Dutch appeal court

Greg Korbee (Originally published in January 2014. Republished in February 2019.)

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