Accuracy has announced plans to expand its litigation support team in the Netherlands, in anticipation of a sharp increase of litigation activity in the country. As part of its roadmap, the consultancy has added former KPMG veteran partner Jan Gijsbert Bakker, who served the Big Four firm for over thirty years, to its Dutch litigation arm.
According to Bas van Helden, a partner at Accuracy and formerly at KPMG, the Dutch landscape is set to follow in the footsteps of other Western countries where a claim culture with large to massive lawsuits and class actions is already well established. “The Netherlands will follow countries such as France and the UK,” he says.
The rise of lawsuits will for a large part be accelerated by two major developments in the landscape. The Dutch Council of the Judiciary recently established The Netherlands Commercial Court, an English-language court with the aim of promoting the Netherlands as an important centre for settling international business disputes. If successful, the institution, which is scheduled to start deliberating cases this year, will prompt demand for an array of professional service activities, ranging from economic and legal analysis to litigation support.
Furthermore, at the end of 2016 a legislative proposal on class actions was submitted to the Dutch parliament with the notion to allow interest groups to represent a group of claimants through the filing of one lawsuit. Once into effect, not only will this allow customers of consumer goods companies or financial services providers to sue, but also parties that are negatively affected by large infrastructural projects. Examples of projects that could be impacted include the construction of highways and railway lines, but also the maintenance of utility networks or gas extraction plants.
With projects getting bigger, more complex and therefore riskier, the likelihood of lawsuit action is also set to rise, says Leontine Koens-Betz, Managing Partner of Accuracy in the Netherlands. She points at the case of gas extraction in the city of Groningen as an example.
Groningen houses the largest natural gas field in Europe and since 1963 the gas field – which accounts for 50% of the natural gas production in the Netherlands – has been exploited by the Nederlandse Aardolie Maatschappij (NAM), a joint venture between Royal Dutch Shell and ExxonMobil (each company owns a 50% share). In the face of the wave of (minor) earthquakes being set off by gas drilling, as well as the large damages to assets and society, the Dutch government has in recent years taken a number of measures to improve the situation for locals. Production has been slashed from over 42 billion cubic metres (bcm) per year five years ago to 24 bcm per year for the coming five years, while those affected by the earthquake have been promised a compensation worth €1.2 billion, spread over a period of 5 years.
Several officials are however still not satisfied with the measures, with many demanding that production is winded down to 12 bcm for safety reasons, while some even insisting that production is brought to a complete halt. With the new regulation coming into play, “Groningen will probably face class action lawsuits much faster”, remarks Koens-Betz.
Jan Gijsbert Bakker
In a bid to tap into the growing market, Accuracy has brought Jan Gijsbert Bakker on board. Bakker joined KPMG in 1977, and during his decade long career at the accounting and consulting firm, among which over fifteen years as a partner, he grew to the rank of Head of Audit and member of the Board. He stepped down from the Big Four's partner ranks approximately two years ago.
After a spell as an independent consultant, Bakker has decided to affiliate with the smaller financial advisory player. Accuracy has around 300 consultants in 10 countries, and provides besides disputes and litigation support, also services such as corporate finance, transaction advisory, restructuring and financial transformation.
Bakker combines considerable experience in claims with a substantial network in the building and infrastructure sectors. Commenting on his new challenge, he says, “The combination of my own local network and the international character of Accuracy puts us in the position to advise on big litigation cases the coming years.”