Coverstory with Christa Wiertz-Wezenbeek, president of the Amsterdam District Court

At the end of 2020, the Amsterdam District Court will be moving into a new building, which is currently erected on the site of the old courthouse on Parnassusweg. Construction got underway some time ago and the contours of the building are taking shape. In the meantime, the court is conducting business in temporary premises on Frederik Roeskestraat. The new courthouse is injecting a massive impetus for the further development of Zuidas as a whole. Hello Zuidas interviewed Christa Wiertz-Wezenbeek, now six months into her tenure as president of the Amsterdam District Court, about this mega-project. 

When I look from my window, I feel proud

You have been president of the Amsterdam District Court for six months now. How has that been so far?

‘It has been a very positive experience. You form a picture in your mind beforehand of how it will be and prepare as best you can, but you never know how things will really be until you start. It’s even more fun than I anticipated and that’s because the courthouse is such an energizing place. Colleagues enjoy working here and there’s always something going on. Because of that, I try to eat in the canteen as often as I can, to interact with all the people who work here. What also energizes me is the central hall with visitors walking in and out.’ 

Your office looks out over the construction site of the new courthouse. What do you feel, looking out from your window?

‘Recently I got a tour of the building and that gave me a good sense of what it will ultimately look like. But I’m also just plain proud. At the moment, we’re split across three locations, which is not an ideal situation. It will be better when we can all be together again in one gorgeous office – we’re certainly looking forward to that. 

What image is the new building intended to project? 

‘Transparency and openness and, in terms of design, authority and solidity. The guiding concept is “justice is public”, and that’s what we want to demonstrate, so the structure is open and incorporates lots of glass. People should feel welcome, but at the same time the building should exude authority. In that respect you can see a definite evolution from the old building to the new. Careful thought has gone into this. And very important, the building also has to be functional for visitors and staff.’

The NACH [New Amsterdam Court House, ed.] consortium is in charge of the design, construction and operation of the new courthouse. What has it been like so far to work with them? 

‘It’s a very constructive process. I’m not in contact with them personally, but my colleagues are. The architects took all our wishes on board and also offered a lot of ideas. And, so far, everything is right on schedule.’ 

Can you reveal anything about the artwork commissioned for the plaza in front of the courthouse?

‘Yes, we’re finally allowed to talk about that. Nicole Eisenman is the artist, and she’s working on a statue as we speak. She submitted an artist’s impression, which was approved, and now we’ve left her to develop the work. The statue will express authority and mercy at the same time. When we presented the concept to local residents, I overheard a lady behind me say, “I’m going to take my grandkids to see it when it’s finished.” That was so lovely to hear. Our court serves the public, so it would be wonderful if this is something people can relate to. There will also be artworks by Femmy Otten in the seven largest courtrooms.’ 

Does the Amsterdam District Court see itself as part of Zuidas? Do you use amenities in Zuidas? How well are you acquainted with the area?

‘We’re located right in the centre of Zuidas and so we are part of the local fabric. Courthouse staff often stroll out to admire the architecture during their breaks or go out for lunch. Our neighbouring residents are also very important to us and we’re in frequent communication with them. I myself took a walk through Zuidas with one of them. I am so amazed by everything Zuidas has to offer. Even we’re going to be doing area surveys so we can get a sense of what’s happening at the local level.’

You have done research in the States on innovations within the court system. What in particular could be adopted in Amsterdam or the Netherlands?

‘One thing I saw there is community court, which is about helping people move forward. The judge is active in the community and tries to find long-term solutions for people with multiple legal problems. That’s a concept. Although you can’t necessarily transfer the model wholesale, the concept itself is very interesting. Knowing the place and looking at how one can help people in one’s specific capacity and contribute as effectively as possible is highly important. Society is complex, but that’s precisely why we need to look at how we can work together effectively, and that’s something we are also going to be doing more in this country.’ 

Do you preside over hearings? Do your duties leave time for that?

‘Yes, I am focusing on contact arrangements and family cases. I genuinely love my profession, and now that I’ve been appointed as president here, I’d like to resume working on these kinds of cases.’ 

What makes your work special? 

‘The people, without question. When we have meetings and ideas are whizzing around, when we’re planning what to do and how to do it, that always makes me realize our staff is our biggest asset. Those interactions across the organization feel really special. Our work is all about people; and we do that to the best of our ability. That also comes down to small things like creating a pleasant atmosphere and making people feel as comfortable and welcome as possible in the circumstances they are in.’

Is there anything in particular you would like to share with our readers?

‘Seeing the magazine reminded me a bit of New York. The local network is fantastic and it’s clear that a close-knit community has formed here. It’s really amazing to have all that nearby and to participate where possible.’ 

The Amsterdam District Court hears some 135,000 cases annually, welcomes an average of 1,000 visitors a day, and employs a staff of 1,000, including 220 judges. The court also facilitates educational activities for secondary school classes at least twice a week.