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International News

Belgium Courts

August 25, 2020 posted by Steve Brownstein

Belgium has five major judicial areas, each within the jurisdiction of a court of appeal (cour d’appel/hof van beroep), of which there are five: Brussels, Liege, Mons, Ghent and Antwerp.

These areas are divided into judicial districts (arrondissements judiciaires/gerechtelijke arrondissementen), each having a court of first instance (tribunal de première instance/rechtbank van eerste aanleg). There are 12 judicial districts in the country. The Brussels judicial district has two courts of first instance, one of which is Dutch-speaking and the other French-speaking.

In addition, the judicial districts have 9 labour tribunals (tribunaux du travail/arbeidsrechtbanken) and 9 commercial courts (tribunaux de commerce/rechtbanken van koophandel).

The districts are divided, in turn, into judicial cantons (canton judiciaire/gerechtelijk kanton), each with a civil magistrate’s court (justice de paix/vredegrerecht). There are 187 cantons in the country.

Each of the ten provinces, as well as the Brussels Capital administrative district, has an assize court (cour d’assises/hof van assisen). The assize court is not a permanent court. It is convened whenever an accused person is committed for trial before it.

The type of court that must hear the case is determined by the nature and severity of the offence, or the nature of the dispute, and also the size of the sums involved.

In some circumstances it is the nature of the dispute that determines the court with jurisdiction. Thus, a civil magistrate’s court has jurisdiction over neighbourhood disputes, and the court of first instance has jurisdiction over divorce. In other cases it is the capacity of the parties that determines the appropriate court. Generally, most disputes between traders go before the commercial court.

Once the type of court with jurisdiction has been determined, it is necessary to designate the place where the case will be considered.

In civil matters the proceedings may be heard before the court of the defendant’s place of residence or before the court of the place where the obligation was contracted or was to be performed.

In criminal matters jurisdiction lies with the court of the place where the offence was committed, the court of the place where the suspect resides, or the court of the place where the suspect may be found. In the case of legal persons, the court with jurisdiction is the court of the place where the legal person has its registered office or its principal place of business.

Courts and their hierarchy

The ordinary courts are organised in a hierarchy. The structure of courts is as follows:




Appeal courts

Labour courts

Assize courts


First instance courts

Labour tribunals

Commercial courts


Civil magistrates

Police courts


The judgments of lower courts are called jugements/vonnissen. Judgments of the appeal courts, the employment courts, the assize courts and the Court of Cassation are called arrêts/arresten.

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