On August 10, 2018, the National Assembly in Paris passed an important law.  This law gives citizens the right to make mistakes. The law focuses on the principle that citizens and companies act in good faith unless proven otherwise.

Why is this a law in France?

In France, the relationship between citizens and government was harsh. The new law changed that. It put an end to distrust and suspicion between the government and citizens. Service and trust act as the starting point. The government first engages with citizens. 

What exactly does the law mean?

The law means that natural persons and legal entities can make mistakes without the government immediately seeing this as a violation or fraud. Any user can correct their error under the condition that it was made in good faith and for the first time. In addition, the person making the mistake must correct their mistake either at their own initiative or at the government’s request. As long as the newly provided information is correct, the citizen is not penalised for the original error. The punishment can be, for example, a fine or the deprivation of benefits. 

Who initiated this change in the law?

The law came about at the intercession of President Emmanuel Macron. He promised this to the French people during his 2017 election campaign. The bill includes nearly 250 pages and 40 articles of law. However, at the heart of the bill is the right to make mistakes.

How are things in the Netherlands?

In 2015, the National Ombudsman’s annual report called attention to the following: ‘The growing complexity and increasing intertwining of rules, and a number of factors that drive this development in the current era, mean that citizens increasingly cannot find their way around the intertwined regulations’.

In its 2017 annual report, the Council of State advises, “As in France, our parliament should consider introducing a law that gives citizens the right to make mistakes without immediately being seen as a violation or fraud. The Council calls attention to the image of the citizen that the government assumes. This is often too negative. ‘Citizens are not the calculating individuals that regulations deem. They are people who can make mistakes without immediately showing malice.

An article appeared in the Dutch Law Journal on April 23, 2018. The title is “The right to make mistakes.”  Tom Barkhuysen writes the paper. He is editor of the NJB, attorney-partner at Stibbe and professor of constitutional and administrative law at Leiden University. In this article, he also wonders whether the Netherlands should consider whether it is helpful to introduce a law like France.

What does the benefits affair have to do with the above?

The benefits affair was caused by unjustified suspicions of fraud with childcare benefits and the strict recoveries when errors were made. In 2017, the affair received increasing attention. From 2004 to 2019, it is estimated that 26,000 parents and, therefore 70,000 children were affected.

Resources:

OUPS.gouv.fr: Le droit a l`erreur pour un Etat au service d`une société de confiance (ESSOC) van het Ministère de la Transformation et de la fonction publiques: https://www.oups.gouv.fr/

Légifrance: le service public de la diffusion du droit: https://www.legifrance.gouv.fr/loda/id/JORFTEXT000037307624/

The Guardian: French parliament gives citizens the ’right to make mistakes’: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jan/24/french-parliament-passes-law-giving-citizens-the-right-to-make-mistakes

Advocatenblad: Raad van State, burger moet fouten kunnen maken: https://www.advocatenblad.nl/2018/04/12/raad-van-state-burger-moet-fouten-kunnen-maken/

Stibbeblog: Het recht om fouten te maken: http://www.stibbeblog.nl/all-blog-posts/public-law/het-recht-om-fouten-te-maken/https://www.njb.nl/blogs/het-recht-om-fouten-te-maken/

Toeslagenaffaire, Wikipedia: https://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toeslagenaffaire