The procedure in binding opinion cases can be outlined as follows:
The Restitutions Committee assesses whether the request for a binding opinion can be dealt with. A letter describing the procedure is then sent to the parties. The Restitutions Committee may instruct the Second World War and Restitution Applications Expertise Centre (the Expertise Centre) to conduct an investigation into the relevant historical facts. This will be necessary in virtually all cases. In the investigation phase the Expertise Centre will first of all inventory the information submitted by the parties. In many cases it emerges that further historical and/or art historical research is needed in order to make it possible to answer questions relevant to giving an opinion. This concerns research in various archives in the Netherlands and other countries. Information about the original ownership situation, the nature and circumstances of the loss of possession, and the handling of any request submitted after the war for restitution is important.
The relevant information collected during the investigation phase is recorded in an overview of the facts that is sent to the parties for additional information. The Expertise Centre sends the overview of the facts to the Restitutions Committee after these additions have been incorporated.
The Committee gives the parties the opportunity to respond to the overview of the facts and to express their points of view. After this there may be reason to organize a hearing. The Committee may also ask the Expertise Centre to conduct further research if this is necessary for issuing an opinion. The Committee considers the content of the opinion and the reasons underpinning it during one or more meetings. After a binding opinion has been adopted the Committee sends it directly to the parties. This marks the end of the Committee’s task.
The length of the procedure varies from case to case and depends on the information the parties provide, the nature and scope of the investigation and the number of cases the commission is dealing with. After the parties have been notified of the opinion, it is published in the annual report and on the Committee’s website, without the personal data of the parties being reported. The overview of the facts is not published.
The Committee assesses a case on the basis of the yardsticks of reasonableness and fairness (see the Decree Establishing the Restitutions Committee, article 2, paragraph 2), and aligns its opinion with nationally and internationally accepted principles. A number of circumstances may be important in the assessment of a dispute, including:
- the circumstances in which possession of the artwork was lost;
- the extent to which the former owner or his/her heirs/legal successors made efforts to recover the artwork ;
- the circumstances in which the owner acquired the artwork and the investigation conducted by the owner beforehand;
- the importance of the artwork to the party claiming it;
- the importance of the work to the owner (e.g. the museum).
All such is described in the regulations.