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Basic Facts about the Country

Membership of the European Union

1 January 1958

Membership of the Council of Europe

5 May 1949

Entry into force of the European Convention on Human Rights

14 June 1995

Basic Facts about the Judiciary

Budget per inhabitant

Number of professional judges per 100,000 inhabitants


Tiers in the ordinary court system


First Instance Courts (general)


First Instance Courts (specialised)


Justices of the Peace


Police Courts


Commercial Courts Labour Courts


Administrative Courts


Appeals Courts


Court of Cassation


Constitutional Court


Twelve judges, from two linguistic groups – Dutch- and French-speaking – with the requirement that one judge in each group possesses sufficient knowledge of German


Each linguistic group is composed of three judges appointed on the basis of their legal experience, and three judges appointed on the basis of having at least five years’ experience as members of parliament.


The Court is composed of judges of both genders, with at least one-third coming from the least-represented group.


Constitutional Court judges are appointed for life by the monarch from a list of two candidates proposed alternately by the House of Representatives and the Senate, by a majority of at least two-thirds of the members present.


The Court examines whether referenda comply with the relevant provisions and with other constitutional and legal provisions in line with which the Court carries out its review.

The Court is competent to review legislative acts (but not royal or ministerial decrees). It has the authority to pass judgment on any violation by legislative acts of fundamental rights and liberties guaranteed in the constitution.


The Court is also competent to review decisions of the House of Representatives concerning expenditures for the election of that legislature.


A case may be brought before the Constitutional Court in two ways: 1) in the form of an action for annulment that may be instituted by any authority designated by statute or by any person that has justifiable interest; and 2) in the form of preliminary questions referred by any tribunal to the Constitutional Court


The prosecution has a weaker status compared to that of the judiciary, in terms of independence. This is because of the responsibility of the minister of justice, vis-à-vis the House of Representatives, for investigation and prosecution policy. The minister is authorised to order prosecutions and to establish binding guidelines for criminal policy. There is a long-standing debate as to whether the Public Prosecutor’s Office is a body that is a part of the judiciary, the executive, or both.

Gender breakdown of judges

All instances


Supreme court

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Judicial Governance

Type of governance system

Judicial council model - Moderate

High Council of Justice

  • Forty-four members, who hold four-year mandates. They are divided into two linguistic colleges (French- and Dutch-speaking). Each college has 22 members – 11 judges elected by their peers and 11 non-judges (lawyers, university professors, and representatives of civil society) appointed by the Senate by a two-thirds majority.

Management Committees of Courts

  • The courts have been grouped into 49 judicial entities. The management of each judicial entity is entrusted to a management committee.

College of Courts and Tribunals

  • Composed, based on linguistic parity, of ten magistrates (court presidents), representing all the management committees of Belgium’s courts: three presidents of the courts of appeal, one president of the labour court, three presidents of the courts of first instance, and three presidents of company courts, labor courts, and justices of the peace and police courts.
  • Since 2023, two chief clerks also attend College meetings.
  • College members are chosen for five-year terms, which they serve in combination with their mandates as heads of respective jurisdictions.

Disciplinary Bodies

  • Two disciplinary tribunals have been created, one French- and one Dutch-speaking, as well as two appeal courts, also one French- and one Dutch-speaking. These courts, which are not permanent, are composed of two magistrates, an assessor, and a president of the bar. The assessors are appointed from among the judges, members of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, and judicial staff.

Distribution of Responsibility

High Council of Justice
  • Organises the examinations for the magistracy, and nominates magistrates for appointment; draws up the general guidelines for judicial traineeships and the continuous training of magistrates
  • Carries out external oversight on the functioning of judicial order, through audits, special investigations, and the handling of complaints about the functioning of judicial order
  • Takes initiatives and gives advice to improve the functioning of the justice system
Management committees of courts
College of Courts and Tribunals
  • This College, consisting of court presidents, elected by their peers, is responsible for the smooth functioning of the courts.
  • The College supports various management committees, by working to ensure necessary resources and optimal use, by guiding management committees towards autonomous management, by acting as a speaker to external players, and by taking initiatives to organise and facilitate the digitalisation of justice, the strategic management of human resources, workload measurement, etc.
Disciplinary bodies
  • Two disciplinary tribunals have been created, one French- and one Dutch-speaking, as well as two appeal courts, also one French- and one Dutch-speaking. The appeal courts are competent for trying not only judges, but also members of the judiciary (including administrative judicial bodies). Additionally, they are tasked to produce reports on disciplinary cases. These reports are not made public. They are, however, sent out to the High Council of Justice, which collects them to develop a single, anonymised report, including all past rulings and common practices by the disciplinary appeal courts.


Politicised appointments to the Constitutional Court

The Constitutional Court consists of six experienced top lawyers and six former politicians. The appointment procedure gives a role to the parliament and political parties, and is inherently politicised. Academic commentators argue that entrenched group-based identity hierarchies hinder the judiciary’s inclusiveness and representative model, citing the failed appointment of Zakia Khattabi in 2020 as an example.


Belgian civil society organisations (CSOs) have voiced concern about politicised appointments to the Constitutional Court. They emphasised that nomination by political parties leads to obscure, behind-closed doors negotiations. CSOs have advocated for all Constitutional Court judges to be nominated by the High Council of Justice, like all other judges, and have called for legislative reforms to that effect.

Excessive budgetary or other powers of the minister of justice allowing undue influence

In 2019, the Council of Europe voiced concerns regarding the minister of justice’s supervision of the management of diverse courts, citing potential risks for the organisational independence of the judiciary. The shift towards the autonomous management of the courts, through the transfer of powers from the executive to the newly created bodies within the judicial organisation, has been delayed. This delay allowed the executive to wield considerable influence in shaping judicial policies. As reported by the European Commission, plans for enhancing judicial independence include transferring budgetary management powers from the executive to the judiciary by 2024. Once implemented, the College of Courts and Tribunals and the College of Prosecutors will directly manage staff budgets and policy, including decisions on the transfer of magistrates and court staff.


A notable proposal from the minister of justice involves introducing both initial and regular security checks on all judges by the National Security Agency. The intended purpose is to mitigate corruption risks and prevent infiltration by criminal organisations. The High Council of Justice criticised this proposal, citing concerns about its potential to jeopardise the separation of powers and allow interference by the executive branch in the functioning of the judiciary. The European Commission warned Belgium that the security checks on judges, especially when carried out by an executive body (in this case, the National Security Agency is a body under the executive’s control), could constitute external pressure. The Commission also emphasised that in member states where bodies comparable to the National Security Agency conduct security checks on judges, such checks are limited in scope, and applied only in relation to judicial candidates or for judges in specific positions. In one EU member state, where similarly far-reaching security checks were introduced on judges, the amendments were then annulled by the Constitutional Court.


The proposal has not yet been adopted by the government, and a revised proposal that would take into account the advice of the High Council remains under preparation.

Under-resourced judiciary

Belgian CSOs have expressed concerns about a chronic lack of (human and financial) resources for the justice system. They argue that the government has not provided the means for the justice system to function properly, thereby undermining checks on its own activities. The European Commission concluded that “a lack of human and financial resources remains a challenge for the justice system”. In its 2022 Rule of Law Report, the Commission recommended that Belgium “continue measures to provide adequate human and financial resources for the justice system as a whole, taking into account European standards on resources for the justice system”. In its 2023 Report, the Commission highlighted that structural resource deficiencies persist, despite recent investment and initiatives.

Issues with the functioning of the Judicial Council

The linguistic divide in the High Council of Justice has complicated its functioning, and even caused blockages in judicial appointments. The latest episode in the dispute between its French- and Dutch-speaking members, testing the balance within the Council, took place in October 2023. Dutch-speaking members of the High Council of Justice blocked top appointments, including that of the new prosecutor general. The controversy centres on the designation of the two strongest candidates, Frédéric Van Leeuw and Paul Dhaeyer, as French speaking, despite their bilingualism. The French-speaking members of the Council have expressed deep concern about the adverse effect this conflict is having on the functioning of courts. Observers fear that the paralysis in the Council’s work due to internal conflicts could derail the entire system, impacting not only the quality of justice, but also public’s perception of courts.

Slow proceedings

The excessive length of court proceedings is a long-standing issue in Belgium, with notably lengthy delays in the Brussels Court of Appeal. The European Court of Human Rights (ECTHR) has condemned Belgium for excessive length of proceedings. The Committee of Ministers has been examining general measures addressing the length of court proceedings within the framework of the Bell case, concerning the excessive length of civil proceedings before first instance tribunals. Another group of cases, the Abboud cases, concerns the excessive length of criminal proceedings, particularly in their judicial investigation phase. In its most recent assessment, from September 2022, the Committee recalled that the judicial backlog in Belgium is a long-standing issue, and that excessive delays in the administration of justice constitute a serious danger for the respect of the rule of law and access to justice. The Committee praised the authorities for their willingness to tackle the problem, and called for an assessment of the impact of the measures already taken. It deplored a general weakness in judicial statistics, which prevents the measurement of the efficiency of the Belgian justice system.


The authorities were invited to provide updated information by June 2023 on all outstanding issues, and decided to review these cases at the Committee of Ministers meeting in December 2023.


According to the European Commission, “significant gaps remain in the availability of data on court proceedings,” which hamper progress on the efficiency of justice.

Accessibility of court decisions

CSOs have expressed concern about Belgium’s failure to publish court rulings in an online database, despite legislative commitments to do so. CSOs welcomed a new law addressing the publication of judgments, but expressed concern about delays in its entry into force. Consequently, they issued the recommendation that “the Belgian state should invest in an online database for court decisions to be accessible to the public. The database should be open source and GDPR compliant.”

Positive Developments & Achievements

Academic commentary has praised Belgian top courts for making explicit references to the ECtHR’s case law when reasoning on the guarantees of the right to a fair trial.

The level of perceived judicial independence among the general public in Belgium continues to be high. In 2023, 66 per cent of the general population perceive the level of independence of courts and judges to be “fairly or very good”.

The independence of the judiciary is expected to increase further in 2024, through the transfer of budgetary management powers from the executive to the judiciary.

Rankings and Surveys

Expert Recommendations

European Commission, Rule of Law Report, 2023

Overall, concerning the recommendations in the 2023 Rule of Law Report, Belgium has made:

  • Some further progress on measures to provide adequate human and financial resources for the justice system as a whole, taking into account European standards on resources for the justice system


On this basis, and considering other developments that took place in the period of reference, it is recommended to Belgium to:

  • Further continue efforts made to provide adequate human and financial resources for the justice system as a whole, taking into account European standards on resources for the justice system.
Fourth Evaluation Round, Second Compliance Report, Corruption Prevention, 2022

Adopted by GRECO at its 91st Plenary meeting (Strasbourg, 13-17 June 2022)


Recommendation ix

  • GRECO recommended that to the widest possible extent, the judges concerned at federal and regional level be subject to appropriate safeguards and rules as regards their independence, impartiality, integrity (professional conduct, conflicts of interest, gifts, etc.), supervision and the applicable sanctions. [assessment: recommendation has been dealt with satisfactorily]


Recommendation xii

  • GRECO recommended that an assessment of the arrangements for assigning cases between judges be carried out in due course. [Assessment: due to the lack of progress on harmonizing rules and practices for distributing cases between judges in appeal courts and courts of first instance, recommendation xii remains partly implemented]


Recommendation xiv

  • GRECO recommended that the High Council of Justice introduce periodic general reports on the functioning of the courts and the prosecution service and, at the same time, expand its audit and investigation activities. [Assessment: the normative framework on the operating reports of the courts and prosecutor service has now been adopted; the body tasked with audits and investigations within the HCJ has been reinforced with additional auditors, enabling it to expand its activities; hence, recommendation has been implemented satisfactorily]


Recommendation xv

  • GRECO recommended that measures be taken to ensure that reliable and sufficiently detailed information and data are kept on disciplinary proceedings concerning judges and prosecutors, including possible publication of the relevant case-law, while respecting the anonymity of the persons concerned. [Assessment: current legislative work to increase the long-term viability of disciplinary bodies could help improve the provision of information and the publication of detailed, reliable data on disciplinary proceedings concerning judges and prosecutors. Until the authorities complete their work in this direction, the recommendation xi remains partly implemented]
Liberties, Key recommendations, 2023
  • The Belgian state should always respect court decisions, even those that are unfavourable to it.
  • To reduce the length of proceedings, it is necessary to provide for massive investment in the judicial sector and give the judiciary control over the management of its budget. The Belgian state should also invest in judicial staff to reduce the dramatic backlog of cases in all jurisdictions, with a special attention to the situation in Brussels.
  • The use of videoconferencing should be banned from courtrooms, except in strictly defined exceptional cases and never in contradiction with the right to a fair trial.

Compliance with European Courts' Judgements

Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU)

State Performance


Number of unimplemented CJEU rulings related to the judiciary

European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)

State Performance

Moderately poor

Implementation record


Number of leading judgments pending implementation Moderate

48 %

Percentage of leading judgements from the last 10 years still pending implementation High



Average time leading judgments have been pending implementation Moderate
Non-Implementation of European Courts Judgments and the Rule of Law | EIN & DRI

Judgements with pending implementation

Selected leading judgments pending implementation

Abboud v Belgium,

Case concerning excessive length of criminal proceedings classified under the Bell group.

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Bell v Belgium

The Dumont group concerning the excessive length of judicial proceedings (civil and criminal) was closed (17 cases) in December 2015. The examination of general measures still required continued with the Bell group (seven cases) concerning the excessive length of proceedings, mainly of civil cases at first instance between 1981 and 2011 (violations of Article 6 § 1).

In September 2018, the Committee closed the examination of six cases of the Bell group, having regard to the individual measures adopted, while recalling that the general measures continued to be examined within the framework of the Bell judgment. In December 2018, it closed its supervision of the situation of labour tribunals and courts and of criminal cases of the Court of Cassation’s Dutch-language chamber, limiting its supervision to the excessive length of civil proceedings before first instance tribunals.

The Abboud group concerns the excessive length of criminal proceedings, in particular their judicial investigation phase between 2003 and 2015 (violations of Article 6 § 1). This issue has already been examined in two groups of cases concerning older facts, the follow-up of which has been closed.

In its latest assessment (20-22 September 2022, 1443rd meeting), the Committee of Ministers recalled that length of proceedings and judicial backlogs are long-standing problems in Belgium and constitute a serious danger for the respect of the rule of law and access to justice. Then the Committee noted with interest that the authorities show a clear willingness to tackle the excessive length of judicial proceedings and that new measures have been taken, including a priority assistance of some courts and tribunals; it underlined the importance of acting without further delay and encouraged the authorities to assess the impact of the measures already adopted, to monitor the judicial backlog and to rapidly draw up appropriate action plans for the courts and tribunals most affected, in particular, the Brussels court of appeal; it also deplored the persistent lack of data on the average processing time (“disposition time”) of civil proceedings at first instance and recalled that there is a more general weakness in judicial statistics, preventing the measurement of the efficiency of the Belgian Justice system, the full assessment of the execution of judgments and, above all, the adoption of appropriate policies and measures.

The Committee asked for the submission of updated information by June 2023 on all outstanding issues and decided to review these cases, at the latest, at the meeting in December 2023.

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Loquifer v. Belgium

The Court found the violation of Article 6 on account of the applicant’s not being able to appeal against the suspension of her duties as a member of the High Council of Justice by that body between May 2013 and March 2015, on the grounds that she was the subject of criminal proceedings. The Court concluded that the government had not demonstrated the existence of any remedy that would have enabled the applicant to have the suspension decision judicially reviewed and to obtain its annulment or suspension. After being acquitted in 2015, the Council found that the conditions for the applicant to resume her duties had been met. She decided, however, to resign.

The law of January 20, 2014 (which came into force on February 3, 2014) extended the jurisdiction of the administrative litigation section of the Council of State, by amending Article 14 § 1 of the coordinated laws on the Council of State, which now provides that: “If the litigation is not assigned by law to another jurisdiction, (…) Council of State rules by way of judgments on appeals for annulment on grounds of violation of either substantial forms or prescribed on pain of nullity, excess or misuse of power, lodged against the acts and regulations: 1° of the various administrative authorities; 2° of the legislative assemblies or their bodies, including the ombudsmen attached to these assemblies, the Court of Auditors and the Constitutional Court, the Council of State and the administrative jurisdictions, as well as the bodies of the judiciary and the High Council of Justice, relating to public contracts, to members of their staff, as well as to recruitment, designation, appointment to a public office or measures of a disciplinary nature”. According to the authorities, this law refers to members of the Supreme Council of Justice and not to its representatives, discussions are underway with the FPS Interior with a view to possibly supplementing this provision.

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Mugemangang v Belgium,

The Mugemangango case concerns the absence of a procedure offering adequate and sufficient safeguards to prevent arbitrariness and to ensure (…) effective examination of the complaint of the applicant, a candidate for election to the Parliament of the Walloon Region (“the Walloon Parliament”) in 2014, who sought a recount of the ballot papers for his electoral constituency, after having lacked 14 votes to obtain a seat. His complaint “was examined by a body [the Walloon Parliament] which did not provide the requisite guarantees of its impartiality (…) and whose discretion was not circumscribed with sufficient precision by provisions of domestic law” and “the safeguards afforded to the applicant during the procedure were likewise insufficient, having been introduced on a discretionary basis” (§ 122).

While recalling the diversity of electoral systems in Europe, the subsidiarity principle and the wide margin of appreciation of States in organising their electoral system (§ 138), the Court indicated that “a judicial or judicial-type remedy, whether at first instance or following a decision by a non-judicial body, is in principle such as to satisfy the requirements of Article 3 of Protocol No. 1” (§ 139).

The Committee of Ministers examined the case last in June 2022. On 10 October 2023, the authorities updated their action plan from 15 December 2022.

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Boutaffala v Belgium,

This case concerns an infringement of the applicant’s right to a fair trial, due to his criminal conviction in 2018 for rebellion and beating the officer who came to assist, which occurred in the context of his 2009 police stop, based solely on the statements of the police officers present at the scene, including the police officers who inflicted degrading treatment on him recognised by the Government in its unilateral declaration to the Court.

The Court notes that, by contrast, the Brussels Court of Appeal reduced the probative value of the statements of the four defence witnesses, on the grounds that, knowing the applicant, they did not offer sufficient guarantees of independence. It also noted that no other testimony or evidence supported the police officers’ version of rebellion. This is particularly problematic in the specific circumstances of this case, where the applicant’s arrest was found to be contrary to Article 3. Lastly, the Court cannot agree with the Government’s contention that the evidence before the domestic courts failed to establish “beyond reasonable doubt” the absence of rebellion, which would amount to reversing the burden of proof in criminal matters which lies with the prosecution.

On July 4, 2023, the authorities transmitted an action plan in this case (DH-DD(2023)818).

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Willems and Gorjon v Belgium

This case concerns the excessive formalism, in June 2016, of the Cour de Cassation, which ruled that the appeals of the two applicants against the judgments convicting them in criminal proceedings for tax offences were inadmissible, due to the absence of mention by their lawyer of the certificate required to act before it.

To remedy the situation that the Court of Cassation was unable to verify authentically whether or not a lawyer held the certificate required to lodge an appeal in cassation, a commitment was made on June 20, 2018 by the country’s Bar Associations regarding the transmission and publication of an updated list of prize-winners each year.

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Vermeersch v Belgium

The case concerns the applicant’s lack of access to a court, resulting from excessive formalism by the Court of Cassation – its declaration of the applicant’s appeal inadmissible due to the late filing of his amplifying brief. The gap in the procedural rules of cassation was not filled by the Cour de cassation which, referring to their public policy nature, ruled that neither the rights of the defense nor the claimant’s right to a fair trial justified departing from them. A contrario, the Court held that this regulation, combined with the legal uncertainty at the material time concerning the suspension and interruption of the limitation period by the filing of an action for annulment, affected the very substance of his right of access to a court.

On March 8, 2022, the authorities submitted an action plan for this dossier (DH-DD(2022)298).

Discussions are underway between the administration and the Court of Cassation to remedy the fact that there is no provision in the Judicial Code which allows a plaintiff in cassation to put forward a new plea based on the violation of a legal provision applicable to the current dispute, when it has come into force while the appeal in cassation is pending but the time limit for submitting an ampliatory brief has expired, even if this would mean giving effect to a retroactive law.

The solutions under consideration consist in introducing the possibility, in such cases, of submitting either a brief or a supplementary petition, with a view to invoking the plea within the one or three-month time limit, with a right for the opposing party to respond to this new plea for cassation.

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