Everyone comes into contact with the law at some stage: you have a disagreement with your neighbour, your employer or the authorities, you cannot deal with it yourself and mediation offers no solution. Or you may become the victim of theft or violence. Or the judiciary may call you as a witness or for jury service in a court case.
In this section, you can read about all the players who are involved in the law.
- Houses of Justice
- Law courts
- Higher courts
- International bodies
Houses of Justice
Belgium has 28 Houses of Justice: one in each judicial district. Flanders and Wallonia each have 13, and Brussels has 2, one French- and one Dutch- speaking. All these Houses of Justice can appeal to the central administration.
There are five judicial areas in Belgium:
These areas are in turn divided in 12 judicial districts each with a Court of First Instance, a Labour Court and a Commercial Court. The districts are further divided in 187 judicial cantons, each with a Justice of the Peace Court.
Sometimes, someone may disagree with the decision of a judge. This person – it may be a convicted person, someone claiming damages, a plaintiff, a respondent, or a public ministry – may take proceedings a second time to dispute the first judgement. Any party may exercise this right, with the exception of those cases in which no further appeal is possible.
There are five Appeal Courts in Belgium:
|Appeal Court||Judicial area|
|Antwerp||Antwerp and Limburg|
|Brussels||Flemish and Walloon Brabant|
|Ghent||East and West Flanders|
|Liege||Liege, Luxembourg and Namur|
The appeal is always heard by a bench which is higher than the court which pronounced the first judgement.
In a higher court, the judges debate the grounds of the case for a second and last time. They then issue a final decision.
Decisions of the Law Courts are known as judgements (NL: vonnis, FR: jugement or DE: Urteil); the decisions of the Court of Appeal are decisions (NL: arrest, FR: arrêt, or DE: Arrest).
As well as the usual law courts and courts of appeal there are two other legal panels which have a supervisory role: the Council of State and the Court of Arbitration.
Belgian citizens do not only have to obey Belgian laws; they also have to obey the coordinating laws. For Belgium, this includes the European laws which apply to all residents of the European Union.
The European Union enacts its own laws: these can be imposed in different ways.
- Regulations: regulations must be applied within the Union directly and in an identical way.
- Directives: the European Union describes the objectives that it wishes to achieve, but the Member States are free to choose how they will go about achieving these aims.
- Opinions and recommendations: these do not have the force of law. Member States can therefore decide whether or not to take account of them.
The European Union has its own General Court and Court of Justice. These courts are based in Luxembourg.