ArgLab • Colloquium

Henrike Jansen

Strategic manoeuvring in the judge’s argumentation in the first case against Geert Wilders

In contrast to the United States of America, where only statements that incite immediate violence are sanctioned, criminal law in the Netherlands (like in other European countries) contains several articles limiting the freedom of speech. It is for violating these rules that the Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders, the national leader of the Freedom Party who strongly opposes immigration and Islam, has been brought to court twice. In this talk, an analysis is presented of the argumentation of the Amsterdam District Court in the first case against this politician. It is shown that the institutional preconditions of the activity type adjudicating a freedom of speech case in the Netherlands leave much room for strategic manoeuvring, especially with regard to charges concerning the incitement of hatred and discrimination. In order to show the space for manoeuvring, the Court’s argumentation, resulting in acquittal, is compared with the argumentation put forward by the Court of Appeal, which had ordered, after the Public Prosecution Service’s refusal to do so, that Wilders be prosecuted. The analysis shows that the District Court made ample use of the space for manoeuvring provided at the normative level concerning the interpretation of legal rules and case law, and the space provided at the factual level of examining the contested facts in light of the previously identified meaning of a legal rule.


Henrike Jansen, Leiden University Centre for Linguistics, The Netherlands