For that reason alone, and for many others also, the Anglo-Dutch Exchange (ADE) which took place for the 49th time at the end of June 2012 continues to be a useful and even an important experience. With the exception of the Germans, nobody surpasses the Dutch for English language skills, and as a consequence, time spent with Dutch lawyers confers a real insight into the Continental system that would otherwise only be obtained by years of language study and practice.

The ADE is a biennial event which is due to come to England in 2014. For the almost negligible sum of 200 Euros about 50 English and Welsh lawyers and students were treated to a packed schedule of events and dinners organised by the Bars of Amsterdam, The Hague, and Rotterdam. The ADE is primarily aimed at young lawyers although a broad age range was represented in the English delegation. A real highlight of the ADE is that delegates are housed not in some anonymous hotel but in the homes of Dutch lawyers from the three cities.

This, of course, meant that every delegate had a completely different but also very personal experience of life in The Netherlands. My host was an extremely cheery German lawyer who lived in a modern flat in The Hague. However others stayed with families in tall Amsterdam houses, or with academics or confident young corporate lawyers. One delegate reported to me that he was given the family’s internet password together with strict instructions as to what websites he could or could not browse. I am chastened to admit that when I saw the programme for the first evening indicated dinner with my host, my first thought was that this would clash with England v Ukraine. I was delighted therefore when the very first thing my host said to me was that she hoped I would not mind if rather than having dinner at home we went out to watch the football.

A whistle stop tour
The first day was spent in lectures at the flashy offices of Van Doorne in Amsterdam where we heard about the law of privacy in The Netherlands and the perils of over-enthusiastic social networking and blogging. We also had a very useful whistle stop-tour of the history and framework of the Dutch legal system. This was followed by a drinks reception in the firm’s in-house bar which was incongruously decked out like a pub.

An early start on the Wednesday, a feature of the week, took us to Rotterdam. Scattering the delegates around three cities meant the organising committee did extremely well to corral all their visitors every morning. We were given a fascinating introduction to the Port of Rotterdam by a very entertaining lawyer who told us in depth about performing ship arrests and attending at a judge’s house to obtain warrants. This was followed by a presentation from an employee of the Port whose unsurpassed Powerpoint skills meant that she could tell and show us absolutely anything we could possibly have wanted to know about the Port. This included showing us a computer programme that showed live on a map of the port and estuary every one of the hundreds of ships berthed there including its cargo. One point that emerged strongly was what a minnow London has become as an international port. The Port’s main focus is on a huge land reclamation project called Maasvlakte 2 creating new container terminals.

From the port we went to Kneppelhout Korthals, a shipping firm, where we heard two lectures, one from a donnish lawyer who closely resembled Hugh Laurie, about the complexity and history of maritime law and the integral role played by the Dutch and English jurisdictions in its development. We were then treated to a case study involving a ship that ran aground after taking evasive action and the frantic jurisdiction-shopping that ensued as the various interested parties sought to have the case dealt with by the most favourable system. We were gleefully told that the case was kept out of the English courts.

In the afternoon we were taken on a tour of the European Container Terminal (ECT) which operates 24 hours a day and can accommodate ships carrying 10,000 containers. This was a highlight of the trip because it was the sort of place that one would not, unless a shipping lawyer, dream of visiting but which proved to be a hugely impressive spectacle. The Terminal is heavily robotised and there was something enormously eerie about seeing scores of driverless trucks ferrying containers from the quayside for collection by flatbed lorries.

We were addressed by senior counsel for the ECT who told us about the hideous smell of a defective refrigerated container full of meat that had rotted on board for weeks on end. However he also explained that containers were never opened in the Terminal so that claims could not be made for loss against the Terminal. An obvious effect of this is that ECT have no idea what is actually in the containers.

Thursday was spent in The Hague. At the Supreme Court, the President explained its workings. His background as a criminal practitioner is not something often seen here. The most conspicuous difference is the primacy of written submissions in the Dutch system. Oral argument in their Supreme Court seems to be a very unusual occurrence.

A flying visit to the British Embassy underscored how important a trading partner The Netherlands is of Britain and gave us a glimpse of 21st century European diplomacy. We were then given lunch by Pels Rijcken & Droogleever Fortuijn, which is a very traditional firm from whose ranks The State’s Advocate is normally selected. This is a very historic post, and has no English equivalent. By employing The State’s Advocate the firm never accepts instructions against the Dutch government.

The afternoon was spent at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) where we received a very polished presentation from two young prosecutors including an English barrister, Rupert Elderkin. This was preceded by a very helpful geography lesson using a large map of the Balkans for those whose knowledge of the area was not what it might have been. Ample use was made of contemporaneous footage from Srebrenica which brought to life a conflict that is quickly, at least from an English perspective, beginning to seem like history.

The last day was spent at the Dutch Central Bank in Amsterdam, where some very young guides reminded us of the genesis of the Euro, and where the impression was given that the Eurozone central banks seem to be fairly powerless to influence monetary policy. A celebratory dinner and a night on the tiles helped cement burgeoning friendships.

How to take part

If you have any capacity at all in your home I strongly urge you to sign up as host to a Dutch delegate in 2014 and, if you are very junior, give some real thought to attending the 51st ADE in The Netherlands in 2016. The true strength of our system cannot be known until you have seen how others do it.  Our nearest neighbour is a good starting point.

Max Hardy, 9 Bedford Row