"I quickly found my footing at the NRGD"

As of January 1st Henk van den Heuvel is the new chair of the NRGD board. The organization is no stranger to him. He was previously involved in drafting the NRGD protocol for the deployment of Ad Hoc experts. He also spoke annually with the NRGD as the chair of the Forensic Expertise Expert Group within the ZM. A reintroduction, then, but now wearing a different hat. How has he experienced his first months as chair?

"Actually, I quickly found my footing at the NRGD. Of course, I had to absorb a lot of new information, but I didn't feel I had to get used to the NRGD bureau or the board. You just dive in, you just do it. Although it's certainly not the case that I easily fit into every role I've ever started. So, my start here is quite remarkable, perhaps because I have a great affinity with what the NRGD does. The interest was there, the network too."

You knew the NRGD, and the NRGD knew you. Were there any surprises?

"I knew the NRGD, but how the NRGD operates is another story. I knew some people, but the whole world behind the register, what we actually do, and what challenges lie there: that was new to me. I now see up close how motivated and driven the staff and board members are. The board, the actual Independent Administrative Body (ZBO), is legally separate from the bureau, but in reality, the NRGD bureau and board are closely intertwined. Sometimes things overlap because everything is interconnected. I represent our administrative interests, especially as chair of the board. It's important to distinguish between administrative and policy matters. At the same time, I seek connection with people, with content, and with our network. Some people I didn't know yet, but within the judiciary, it's mostly a matter of reintroducing myself to many people I already know."

You’ve already made your first work visit to the Pieter Baan Center (PBC)

"As a judge, I have read numerous reports from psychologists and psychiatrists. My own background in science and my network make me familiar with the forensic natural science expertise areas for which the NFI is known. But at the NRGD, most experts come from the fields of psychology and psychiatry. I want to delve further into that. The invitation from the PBC was therefore an excellent opportunity, and I felt very welcome there. The PBC also indicated that we are important to them. It helps to know more about the subject, even if it's not absolutely necessary for my role as board chair. I just want to! I didn’t know beforehand how many experts from which fields are registered with the NRGD. That was one of the first things I heard: 'We have about 600 registered psychiatrists and psychologists.' That’s quite different from other areas of expertise. I think that impression is widespread within the judiciary. Most judges know that psychologists and psychiatrists are registered with the NRGD, but perhaps not that the primary area of expertise in the register is in behavioral sciences. I don't know if that translates into the number of reports. I’m eager to discuss this with the judiciary. The same goes for the police, the prosecution, and the legal profession."

What challenges stand out for the NRGD itself?

"If the legislation department of the core ministry goes along with the ambition to expand the NRGD’s role to administrative and civil law, that will mean something for the NRGD bureau. The file is with the core department of Justice and Security. It has been there for a while but has been revitalized. It is important that the desire to involve the NRGD in other areas of law comes from the sectors themselves. They expressed this wish to the department, with the support of the Council for the Judiciary. Now it is up to the ministry, and legislation is in play. I see the need in the field and understand well why they look to us, especially in the administrative law sector. I think we could handle it just fine.

Moreover, you have the National Register of Judicial Experts (LRGD), which is very focused on civil law. I think there is room for both of us, and that LRGD and NRGD can coexist perfectly. We have already had a good discussion with the LRGD board. We felt from both sides that we complement each other well and can coexist. The LRGD said: 'You mostly have scientific experts, and we have experts with a very different background.' But the differences do not conflict, just as we do our work with a legal basis. Despite the differences, we both aim to make a qualitative contribution to the legal chain."

Another challenge lies in quality assurance around mediation in the judiciary. It is not yet fully crystallized, but the NRGD might be asked to play a role in this. The board has said before I started: 'We are open to this in principle.' Mediation might seem an odd fit compared to our regular areas of expertise. But if you view mediation as alternative dispute resolution, then I believe the NRGD should be open to it. The NRGD was originally established following the Schiedammer Park murder. But it was already said then that the register could eventually serve the entire judiciary. Expanding our content is therefore good and logical. The NRGD is very skilled at determining competencies.

What are your ambitions regarding the criminal justice chain?

"The criminal justice chain also functions as a network, and I would like to intensify that a bit. Ensure that you are in good contact and know what each party does and does not want. Ultimately, we want to have the highest possible quality of experts and minimize the chances of something going wrong in a criminal case. That is what binds all parties. Everyone works in their own way, and some operate more autonomously, making them less open to our input. But if you reach out, you find that you are welcome and that attention and interest are appreciated."

Do you see a role for the board in this as well?

"The board members are familiar with the issues within the chain partner they represent. They are the point of contact for this, but I think and expect that they are also active as ambassadors for the NRGD. All members have a personal reason why they said 'yes' to their position. They have a personal drive, fueled by their own organization. Otherwise, you wouldn’t do this."

What role do you see for the NRGD bureau in this?

"I think the bureau can play a significant role. Usually, the bureau works mainly operationally, and the board is active on an administrative level. Then there is a formal distinction. But as I mentioned, these two roles at the NRGD are somewhat more intertwined. Precisely the bureau staff have built up a large administrative network over time. What eventually ends up on an administrative table is usually the result of something first discussed at the administrative level. So, relationship management from the bureau is essential, as is the knowledge built up at the bureau. The NRGD has a lot of knowledge, but an institute of knowledge is usually a place you go to when you have a question. That’s not the kind of knowledge institute we are. So, I am still searching: what do we want ourselves and where does our environment's need lie, related to us? We are not forensic experts, but we know better than anyone how the criminal justice chain works and where to get the information. Maybe we should think in that direction. They should not call us with a substantive forensic question, but as the NRGD, we may have the best view of what expertise is available and how to access it. The NRGD as an information broker. Symposia and meetings can also play a role in this."

Are there areas of expertise you would like to expand the register with?

"I am not directly focused on that. The expansion of the current areas and the ambitions in the field of administrative and civil law keep us busy. It will only involve parts of those areas of law. But an area that did catch my attention concerns economic disputes with large multinationals. Civil law, then. Experts are often used to calculate the possible financial consequences of certain situations. A register of registered experts would be great. But such a register doesn’t exist, and the number of large firms with that expertise is small. So, you are fishing in a small pond. When I heard that, I thought: 'Maybe we can do something with that someday.' But not now: other matters take precedence.

Such as the ongoing updating of our own regulations, with all the procedures and rules. We deliberately waited until I was settled in, but it is really necessary. As a lawyer, I also enjoy it. But it’s not the first thing you do when you just start, and I’ve only been at it for five months. I think we are now ready to start.

I notice that over five months, you gradually get a picture of things. It is an intensive role, and I have one day a week for it, which is quite little. You want to do justice to the organization, to the board, and to the role you have been given. It is a serious role that also requires discipline, for example, in responding to the advice I review: I want to have the answer ready no later than one day after, because if I wait too long, it will pile up. Our director Michel Smithuis also said that: 'At the bureau, we are working on this full-time, but you are actually doing it on the side, because you have a full-time other job.' But at the same time, I notice that I do it with great pleasure. And I hope this is visible."