The GALA lays down general rules that in principle apply to the entire field of administrative law. If a decision by an administrative body can be appealed to a court, the general rule is that an objection procedure must be followed before the matter can be taken to court. Recently, research has been conducted to survey citizens’ experiences before and during objection procedures, as well as factors influencing these experiences. The research was divided into a quantitative research and a subsequent qualitative study to gain insight into the underlying mechanisms. The article reports about the major findings of the qualitative study.
On the whole, the interviewees appreciated their treatment at the hearing. They indicated that they were able to expound their position (voice), that their arguments were taken seriously (trustworthiness), and that they were treated with respect (interpersonal respect). On these elements, the qualitative study paints a slightly rosier picture than the quantitative study.
The most critical comments on the hearing we recorded concerned the attitude of those representing the administrative authority in cases that were considered by an independent committee. That attitude was often judged to be rigid and the respondents were annoyed by the appearance at the hearing of (‘yet’) another official than the one(s) they had previously been in contact with.
Many administrative bodies have chosen to use an informal approach which implies the use of mediation skills, after an objection has been lodged. When informal resolution was attempted, the response of the interviewees concerned was by no means invariably positive, and in some cases even distinctly negative.
The interviews showed that the objectors would have preferred to have had more information about the actual objection procedure in detail and in advance. A number of interviewees indicated that they felt very uncomfortable when certain procedural aspects were sprung on them, such as the presence of the opposing party (which they had not expected) and a medical examination being carried out. Ambiance matters. It was found that the perceived level of treatment could be influenced by subtle expressions of social etiquette. The research shows that objectors set great store by a proper reception and value the physical layout of the hearing venue.
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