Organisation of the judicial system

Belgium is a federal state with a judicial system in civil law tradition, comprising a set of codified rules applied and interpreted by judges. The organisation of the courts and tribunals is a solely federal competence.

The Belgian judiciary is organised in the shape of a pyramid.

The Belgian territory is divided into five judicial areas, which correspond to the five areas covered by the ‘courts of appeal’: Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent, Liège and Mons. The ‘labour tribunals’ and ‘commercial tribunals’ are in principle organised on the level of the judicial areas. The judicial areas are subdivided into 12 judicial districts, each with a ‘tribunal of first instance’. Furthermore, there is at least one ‘police tribunal’ per judicial district (15 ‘police tribunals’ in total). The latter is further divided in 187 judicial cantons, each with at least one ‘tribunal of justice the peace’ (229 ‘tribunals of justice the peace’ in total) . In addition to this, the Belgian territory can be spit up into 10 provinces and the administrative district Brussels-Capital which respectively fall within the competence of one of the 11 ad hoc ‘courts of assizes’. At the top of the judicial pyramid is the ‘court of cassation’ (i.e. the Belgian supreme court of justice). The court of cassation is competent to ensure that the trial and appeal courts duly observe the rule of law.

In criminal proceedings, the Court is assisted by the public prosecution service, whose principal mission is to exercise the public competence of initiating and pursuing criminal prosecutions. Besides the 5 general prosecutor’s offices and the 14 local prosecutor’s offices, there exists a federal prosecutor’s office that is not attached to a specific Court or Tribunal. The federal prosecutor’s has competence over the whole Belgian territory.

Even though the function of the public prosecution service within the courts and tribunals is exercised under the authority of Minister of Justice, the magistrates of the public prosecution service are nonetheless part of the judiciary.

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European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ). Profile of Belgium

Judicial cooperation

General description of the national system for international judicial cooperation in criminal matters

In the field of judicial cooperation in criminal matters with the members states of the European Union (and the Schengen Group member states), Belgium has opted for a decentralised system.

The general rule is that foreign EU authorities who are seeking to submit a request for international legal assistance or a decision or judgment for mutual recognition to Belgium, have to transfer their request/decision/judgment to the public prosecutor’s office that is territorially competent. Territorial competence is determined in consideration of either the place of residence of the suspect, or the location where it is believed he may be found or, if the request relates to goods, in consideration of the location where it is believed the goods may be kept.

Moreover, foreign EU authorities can also submit their request/decision/judgment to the federal prosecutor’s office, as one of its duties is to ensure the facilitation of international cooperation.

The central authority for legal assistance judicial cooperation in criminal matters of the Federal Public service for Justice (Ministry of Justice) is competent in the relations with the EU member states for handling specific requests such as:

- to give prior consent, where applicable, to the forwarding of judgments and certificates;

- providing guarantees as to the return to the country filing the petition of convicted offenders following a court ruling under a European arrest warrant;

- collecting and centralising copies of all requests for legal assistance sent out by or received by the Belgian judicial authorities;

- in the event of concurrence between a European arrest warrant and a request for extradition;

- in sensitive cases of assistance and European arrest warrants;

- Authorising the transit of prisoners in the framework of the execution of the European arrest  warrant.

Requests for legal assistance will be executed in conformity with the Belgian legislation and with the international instruments to which the requested Member States and Belgium are parties. Belgian authorities will however comply with requested formalities on the conditions that international instruments foresee this possibility and that the requirements are not contrary to fundamental principles of law or any other principle of Belgian law.

Text in original language, English and/or other available languages of the relevant national laws/provisions of the Criminal procedure codes on judicial cooperation in criminal matters:

EJN website links

Links to the relevant sections of the Council of Europe and United Nations Treaties Offices websites containing information on the conventions to which Belgium is party.

National case law relevant for judicial cooperation in criminal matters

Information on the organisation of the EJN

Useful national links