Searching for the truth together
If you’re looking for a story about a typical student experience, you won’t hear it from attorney Eva González Pérez. ‘I didn’t live in Utrecht and I only went there to get my degree and start my career.’ But starting a career was no easy feat.
‘My first few years as a legal intern were rough. I endured offices that had a bad work atmosphere, areas of law that didn’t suit me and even denigrating remarks. But I eventually found my home in legal aid. When two colleagues and I opened our own office in 2007, it was a real eye-opener.’
Childcare benefit scandal
González Pérez made headlines in 2019 with the revelation of the childcare benefit scandal, in which the Dutch Tax and Customs Administration wrongly required parents to pay back their allowances. Though she has been working on the case since 2014, she says every day still brings new surprises. ‘You start immersing yourself in laws and regulations during your first year as a law student. I always tell my clients: “I’m here to help, but I will not help you lie.” It was shocking and demotivating to find out that a government institution itself was breaking the law. My wish for the future is that government institutions will follow the rules, but it’s obviously bizarre that I would have to say that.’
After spending six years working on the childcare benefit scandal, González Pérez has little faith that the culture at places like the Tax and Customs Administration has improved. ‘Some employees who acted unlawfully are still working there. And what would have happened if I hadn’t discovered this by chance? Would they still be targeting people based on nationality?’ Despite all this, she still sees some good in the situation: there were also employees who did act correctly and whistleblowers who ultimately helped bring the case to light. Other government organisations besides the Tax and Customs Administration will now be investigated as well.
A large case like this one underscores the importance of collaboration. González Pérez says those who have done the most in this regard are journalists Pieter Klein and Jan Kleinnijenhuis, and MPs Pieter Omtzigt and Renske Leijten. ‘The scandal was ultimately exposed because they kept asking questions and digging deeper. Without them, it never would have happened. It was crucial to jointly tackle this challenge and search for the truth together.’
Pieter Klein is one of the journalists who has been working on the childcare benefit scandal. About Eva he says: 'It is thanks to the incredible stamina of Eva González Pérez that justice is done. Without her perseverance, the truth would not have come to light. Eva has brought the powers that be to their knees in her fight for justice.'