Professor Gerard Meussen
Professor Gerard Meussen

"It is essential that the human dimension returns to the arena of tax law”

The ‘human dimension’ has been much discussed over the past few years. After the Dutch childcare benefits scandal, the call for greater attention for the human dimension became louder. But what does this term actually mean? A scientific definition is lacking and even the government’s definition offers plenty of space for interpretation. This has led to shortcomings in the judicial sphere, according to Gerard Meussen. The Professor of Tax Law will hold his valedictory lecture at Radboud University on 20 June.

Meussen’s plea is heartfelt. He will retire from the university at the end of June, after over 49 years of working in the fiscal world. As Professor of Tax Law, however, he was not only active in the academic world but also expressly focused on the consequences of government policy for citizens. The human dimension is not inherent to the judicial genes of a tax specialist. “Lawyers want to fit everything into a box. If something happens, we immediately want to know which legal template applies”, explains Meussen. “If this is not presumptively clear, then it becomes difficult.”


“But the human dimension is hard to fit into a box. Neither in a legal sense, nor in a scientific one”, says Meussen. The government applies the definition “complying with the interests of citizens in realising and executing policy, legislation and regulations”, but this is also not always consistently interpreted.

In his farewell address, Meussen will address the various actors that, according to him, have slipped up over the past few years: not only the Tax and Customs Authority as the executioner, but also legislators, judicial powers, tax advisors and the fiscal academic field itself. From accelerated digitisation that excludes digitally illiterate citizens and makes human contact difficult to unyielding inspectors who refuse the slightest compromise. But also politicians who pressure the Tax and Customs Authority to combat fraud and to overreact, even if this severely and unjustly detriments certain – largely innocent – groups.

Childcare benefits scandal

The most obvious example of the lacking human dimension is, of course, the Dutch childcare benefits scandal. Since 2022, Meussen has been a member of the appeals advisory committee for childcare benefits, which is focused on resolving this scandal. In this role, he has dealt with countless severe cases. “Never in my life have I seen the Tax and Customs Authority be so ruthless as in the childcare benefits scandal”, says Meussen. “Our system has always had an element of harshness, but never before was it so prominent as in this case. I would never have thought it possible.”

This is partly because, in situations like the childcare benefits scandal, the parties involved point fingers at each other. Meussen: “The government and House of Representatives assume that when policy is implemented, a bit of flexibility will be applied. But that did not happen here. And even the judicial powers ended up referring back to the legislation.”

Preventing hardening

In Meussen’s opinion, it is essential that “the human dimension returns to the fiscal sphere”. In his farewell address, he will suggest a number of recommendations to accelerate this. Practical ones, like implementing a constitutional court, as well as personal ones: courage for all parties involved to dare to deviate from the law in consideration of the human dimension. “Only then will we prevent any further hardening of society and waning trust in the government.”

Contact information

Organizational unit
Tax Law Division, Faculty of Law
Economy, Politics, Law