In the 14th century, cities in the Netherlands engaged an appointed advocate to draft regulations and letters and to negotiate with foreign powers. These advocates were also called ‘pensionaries’. They received a ‘pension’: a fee for their advice and services.
Advocaat van den lande
Later, provinces also obtained assistance from their own appointed advocates. In the province of Holland, this individual carried the title of 'advocaat van den lande' (Land's Advocate). The first known 'advocaat van den lande' was Barthout van Assendelft (1480 - 1489). Although he also acted as legal representative of the province, the nature of his function was primarily administrative.
Shift in Function
The position of Land's Advocate or Grand Pensionary was originally mainly administrative, although this was not without risk. A famous example is Land's Advocate Johan van Oldebarneveldt, who was beheaded in 1619 for treason by his political opponents. He was the last advocate to bear the title of Land's Advocate. After this, the two positions of Land’s Advocate and Grand Pensionary were held by different individuals. State advocates in the legal sense first appeared in 1653, and that position continued to exist until French era. When the country regained its independence in 1814, two State Advocates were appointed. There has been a single State Advocate and a number of Deputy State Advocates since 1879. The title is conferred by Royal Decree. In 2018, the title of State Advocate was conferred on Reimer Veldhuis, partner at Pels Rijcken.
Role of the State Advocate today
Like many companies and organisations, the Dutch State engages an appointed, external lawyer who works in accordance with the rules that apply to all lawyers in the Netherlands. The State Advocate is not employed by the State, however. The obligations that apply to a State Advocate also apply to the other attorneys in his or her firm. Each year they collectively handle more than a thousand cases for the State. In addition, Pels Rijcken’s attorneys also work for other clients.
The State Advocate's obligations are contractual
The obligations of the State Advocate and his colleagues are laid down in a contract with the State. The State Advocate and his colleagues may never take action against the State, but frequently represent the State in legal proceedings. In addition to litigation, advice and legal assistance are provided for large projects.
Obviously, advice regarding litigation, contracts to be concluded, or proposed decisions can affect policy issues. When this is the case, the State Advocate will act the same as he or she would for any other client. The attorney assesses the legal aspects, advises on the chances of success and the risks involved in litigation, the possibility of reaching a settlement in or out of court and the litigation strategy. The client makes the decisions. The policy is not determined by the attorney or the State Advocate.
State Advocacy by Pels Rijcken
Pels Rijcken’s attorneys are specialised in a large number of areas. They are supported by a team of support attorneys. Together they build up a collective memory within the practice with regard to legal issues with which the State is confronted. This is a source of insight enabling the State Advocate and his or her firm to provide the State with optimum support.