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  • Public law
  • 25-07-2016

The key question here was whether the Municipal Executive was biased in a case where an alderman had made negative comments in a newspaper about the outcome of the decision-making process, whereas the objection period was still pending and the mayor was to chair the hearing.

The appellants felt that the objection proceedings were conducted purely for appearances’ sake and that the outcome had been predetermined. The Division did not agree with that and in response to this complaint explained that the prohibition of bias is not intended to dissuade administrative bodies from pursuing certain policy choices. Administrative bodies may not improperly represent the interests entrusted with them by, for example, letting personal interests or preferences influence them.

The Division furthermore explained that municipalities have a public interest in their residents being informed about decisions made by the council, the Municipal Executive and the mayor. That happens, for example, in the case of integrated environmental permits and the adoption of zoning plans, which are published in daily and weekly newspapers. The publication of an article that says that persons living near the development location would not be paid any compensation for loss resulting from government planning decisions had to be seen against this backdrop and did not constitute an argument to deem the Municipal Executive biased in performing its duties and exercising its powers. The Division furthermore emphasised that it was not the Municipal Executive but rather the newspaper’s editorial staff who bore final responsibility for the contents and publication of the article and that the mayor was allowed to chair a hearing in objection proceedings.

In short, as long as the Municipal Executive does not have its own personal interest in this case that falls outside the scope of its administrative duties, the prohibition of bias is not violated. Comments made in public by the alderman, as a member of the administrative body, about the outcome of a decision-making process conducted by said administrative body do not constitute a violation. The question of whether such comments are in fact even sensible and necessary, is a different matter altogether.

Read the 6 July 2016 decision of the Administrative Jurisdiction Division of the Dutch Council of State here.

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