By Christoph Malliet
Published August 2005
Read the Update!
Christoph Malliet has a degree in philosophy (1983). He is a librarian at the Law Library of the Catholic University of Leuven in Belgium since 1988, where he takes care of the paper and electronic collection, as well as the website of the library. He published five editions of a print bibliography on Belgian law (Elementaire Bibliografie Belgisch recht, Mys & Breesch, 5th ed. 1999). Publications on the Internet include www.rechtslinks.be, a list of Belgian legal websites, www.rechtsaf.be, a list of Belgian legal journal abbreviations, and www.rechtgenoot.be, the online version of the mentioned printed bibliography. He is regularly invited to talk about Belgian electronic legal publishing on various conferences.
Update to an article previously
published on LLRX.com on December 1, 2000
Belgium is a federal state with a civil law system and is a member of the European Union. These three qualities basically account for the legal system the country has adopted.
The Belgian state was formed as a constitutional monarchy in 1830, as a compromise between French and Dutch claims, appeased by the British government. At that time it was already largely influenced by the French legal system and this was laid down in the constitution. The legislative branch was formed by a parliament with two chambers (Chamber and Senate). The King was (and is) the head of state and of the executive branch, but political power is almost entirely in the hands of the government and its prime minister. The judicial branch consists of regular courts in different appeal levels (private and criminal law matters), later an administrative court was added (1948). A constitutional court has only been set up in recent times (1980).
The court system to this date has changed very little and still very much resembles the French system. The ordinary courts rank in four levels: "Tribunal de Police" (criminal) and "Tribunal des Juges de Paix" (civil) are the lowest levels for small fellonies or conciliation matters. Normal starting level (first instance) is the "Tribunal de Première Instance" (civil and criminal), which is called correctional court or juvenile court in criminal matters. Very recently, specialized tax chambers were added to the formal organisation of the courts of first instance. Commercial courts have lay judges alongside professional magistrates and social law cases appear in the labour tribunal. Serious offenses appear before the "Cour d'Assises", the only Belgian court with a jury. The appeal level is the "Cour d'Appel", where civil, criminal and commercial matters are dealt with; only the "Cour de Travail" is a specific appeal court for social law cases coming from the lower labour tribunals. Finally, the "Cour de Cassation" is the highest appeal level, dealing only with points of law, no new facts can be brought before this court, just like in the French system.
Although civil and criminal courts are both in the same "ordinary" court system, it must be stressed that criminal cases have a specific "foreplay", with preliminary investigations, an Examining Magistrate and a Public Attorney. All this is written down in the Code of criminal procedure (1867), as is done for civil cases in the (new) Code of civil procedure (1967). Judicial review as such belongs to the ordinary courts, but administrative redress is possible before an administrative court, where the highest administrative court is the Council of State.
The one thing about the court system that could not be the same as in France is of course the use of languages in court. Legal practice has to deal with the fact that the use of either the Dutch or French language in court depends on the region where the court is established. In Brussels, both languages are used. As a reminder for non-Belgians: the name of the language spoken in Flanders, the Flemish part of Belgium, is Dutch. "Flemish" is not a language, the language of Flanders is the same as in the Netherlands, although there are some slight differences, just like the differences between British English and American English.
Form of State
On the other hand, the organization of the legislative and executive branches of the state has undergone severe changes since the beginnings and is in no way similar to the French example nowadays. Whereas the cohabitation of the two language groups has never been easy, the complex situation of Brussels (being the capital of the country and lying entirely on Flemish territory but with 90% of its population speaking French) forced politicians to turn the country into a federal state. Constitutional changes, starting in 1970, have to this day still not come to their end. Because territory and language did not match the same entities, different regions as well as different language communities were established, both of them with legislative powers for different points of interest. Brussels has a special status, as well as the small German speaking community on the east border. The federal government issues acts (wet/loi) whereas the regions and communities issue decrees (decreet/decret). However, the core of the civil, commercial and criminal law remains at federal level, whereas mostly public law issues like education, environment and culture, have become the competence of the regions and communities.
Being not only part of the European Union but even one of its founding fathers, Belgium has to apply European legislation and has to give regard to rulings of the European Court of Justice. Detailed consequences thereof are not dealt with in this short guide, just like consequences resulting from being signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights. But the importance of this European dimension is evident and keeps growing, so the most important legislative and judicial institutions and their output are briefly mentioned in this guide.
The paper history: private and public publishing
Belgian legal publishing has never been a really booming business. It suffers somehow from the small size of the country, which is even worsened by the fact that publishers have to choose either for the Dutch or French language. The Belgian section of the worldwide legal publisher Wolters Kluwer dominates the market since 1980, similar to the situation in the Netherlands, although less monopolistic. In earlier days, two Francophone publishers, Bruylant and Larcier, closely related to the Brussels courts, were in charge (and still are for French language editions). For many years, the government did little more than publish the Official Gazette and was not able to produce consolidated texts of legislation in a suitable way. As a result, those three publishers were the most important source for knowing how the law stood, by way of their loose-leaf annotaded codes (see below) and commentaries.
The three high courts (Cour Constitutionnelle, Cour de Cassation, Conseil d'Etat) all have their own more or less official law reporters, be it with some help from commercial publishers. However, as in most other European civil law countries, the publishing of lower case law lies entirely in the hands of commercial legal journals. Most journals are published by Kluwer and Larcier, followed by Bruylant and Die Keure - La Charte. The loose-leaf market is almost entirely in the hands of Kluwer and Die Keure. When it comes to treatises and books, Intersentia, Larcier and Die Keure rival Kluwer, whereas Bruylant is becoming less important for Belgian law books. Some smaller legal publishers are Maklu, Biblo and Vanden Broele.
The electronic history (1988-2000): from Justel to Judit and back
Before 1997, the outstanding electronic legal device was a Kluwer database on CD-ROM called Judit, with no serious challenge from other products. It still exists today as a CD! Judit was (and is) a reference tool created in the late eighties, with hardly any full texts, but with (bibliographic) references to legislation, case law and journal articles. To read the referred documents themselves, one has to get hold on the paper products which it refers to: the Official Gazette and the law reviews and books. Two features are special about Judit. Referring to case law and journal articles combined is rather common in European legal databases, but adding legislation to it is rather uncommon. The second strange thing about Judit is the fact that it gives summaries of judicial decisions that were published in journals by other publishers than Kluwer, with no protest from those other publishers for many years. Those two features made Judit the one and only reference tool you needed, bearing in mind that electronic full text was unavailable anyhow, so you had to rely on your paper library.
This Judit-monopoly in the nineties notwithstanding, electronic legal publishing had actually already started in the sixties with the building of the Justel dial-in databases at the Ministry of Justice. But due to a complete lack of user-friendly products, those databases became only known to the public 35 years later, when they were made available on the Internet in 2000. All of a sudden, these quite large public databases appeared free on the net, offering access to consolidated legislation and case law of the Supreme Courts and the Constitutional Court. Furthermore, the Official Gazette was published daily on the net since 1997 and the Council of State had moved to exclusive electronic free publishing of its case law in the same year. Since 1995, the parliament has its draft bills (documents) and hansards (debates) in full text on the web. All these public and free of charge databases were warmly welcomed by users, who slowly turned away from the private owned sources in legislation and case law.
E-publishing since 2000: the full text era
To meet the challenge from the new public websites, Kluwer published Judit and TWS (see below) together on the web in early 2000, calling the "new" database Jura. But this didn't end its problems on the online market: full text of lower case law and journal articles was still almost exclusively in printed resources, whereas lawyers were finding their way to the web: they began to expect more full text in legal databases. Furthermore, other legal publishers woke up from their paper dream and started trying to set up electronic databases themselves. An early attempt at the end of nineties by Mys & Breesch to create a full text database, Judas, failed. Between 2000 and 2004 some separate journals created a website with full text, without much ado. In 2003, Kluwer mounted the www.kluwerconnexion.be website, on which CD-ROM's could be accessed online. This was an attempt to respond to the declining interest in its loose-leaf products and their CD-ROM versions. Finally, in 2004 Larcier published a complete new website called Strada, offering various full text resources, including some important law reviews. This was a breakthrough, and was almost instantly (2005) followed by an important enlargement of the content of Jura with full text of most law reviews that Kluwer publishes. Then, in november 2005, Intersentia, Die Keure and Bruylant produced a new website, called Jurisquare, with the combined holdings of most of their journals. It took a while, but real full text e-publishing seems under way now at last.
In Belgium, legislation is, in theory, the one and only primary source of law. In practice, case law and secondary sources are quite important too. Classic fields of law have been "codificated" into specific codes, a process started by Napoleon with the Civil Code in 1804 (Belgium was French territory at the time). But codification is still going on today, e.g. the Company Code in 1999, or the Code of PIL in 2004. Although the importance of these codes in everyday legal practice is high, they are a piece of legislation as any other law, undergoing continuous changes. The biggest databases have thousands of different laws, one of them being the (updated) Civil Code.
When an international treaty is ratified by Parliament (in some cases the question may rise which of the six (!) parliaments has to ratify!), a law ratifying the treaty is voted upon. Therefore all international treaties appear in the Official Gazette in one of the original languages of the treaty, mostly as an appendix to that law. Sometimes one or more translations are added, with official status or not. Databases like Juridat or Jura have the texts of all important treaties Belgium has signed and ratified. Since 2004, the federal Foreign Affairs Department offers on its website a Treaties Database with all treaties since 1987 that Belgium has signed. It tells exactly whether or not a treaty is in force.
European Union Legislation
European "regulations" have immediate force of law in the Member States, and they appear in the Official Journal of the EU, as do "directives" and other official documents. All this can be found on europa.eu.int/eur-lex, the major legal database of the EU, which was re-launched in a new version in late 2004. Regularly, the Belgian Official Gazette sums up these regulations as a mere form of information, not reproducing the texts themselves.
The original constitution from 1831 was severely revised between 1970 and 1993. Therefore a new version was issued on 17 February 1994. Since then, minor changes have taken place, all of them incorporated in the official version on the website of the Senate, in Dutch or French.
3.1 Legislation: chronologically published
The "Moniteur belge" or "Belgisch Staatsblad" is the Official Gazette of the country. It holds every piece of new legislation from all parliaments and governments: "acts" (loi/wet) by the federal parliament, "decrees" (décret/decreet) by the regional parliaments and all kinds of statutory instruments: "Arrêté royal" ("Koninklijk Besluit"), "Arrêté ministeriel" ("Ministerieel Besluit"), and all "arrêtés" or "besluiten" by the various regional governments. Since it also holds a lot of other official information (exams and nominations, insolvency's, immigrations etc.) it is quite a heavy daily newspaper, dating back to 1831.
However, from 1788 to 1845, laws were published in the "Bulletin officiel des lois et arrêtés royaux de la Belgique", and only from 1845 onwards in the Moniteur. Before 1898, French was the only official language; Dutch translations were sometimes added but with no official status. Only in the 1860s, important older laws like the civil and criminal code were officially translated in Dutch and published in the Official Gazette. Recently, German translations of important laws are published for the small (less than 100,000 citizens) German speaking community.
Since July 1997, the Official Gazette is published daily on the Internet on the website of the Federal Justice Department (formerly the Ministry of Justice) (www.moniteur.be or www.staatsblad.be). It has a search engine for full text. Texts are presented both in HTML and in PDF. In 2003, the government stopped the publication of the paper version, quite an extraordinary decision. But since 2005, due to a judgment of the Constitutional Court, a limited number of paper copies are available again in local libraries, for people with difficulties in accessing the Internet.
Note that the above links will not lead you directly to the Official Gazette, but to the general website of the Federal Justice Department, only the next page will present you the Gazette, amongst other features of that website.
Pasinomie, Omnilegie, Bulletin législatif belge
These are some alternative paper collections, where the laws are published chronologically. Pasinomie dates back to 1788, which is particulary interesting for very old texts, sometimes including parliamentary debates, but is in French only. Omnilegie started in 1950 and is in Dutch and French. It was renamed "Tijdschrift voor Wetgeving" in 1999 and now contains scholarly articles as well. The days of these chronological series are over of course, because they are published always too late and even then they don't consolidate the texts.
3.2 Legislation: Consolidated
Consolidated Legislation (Juridat) (Federal Justice Department)
Since the summer of 2000, a huge and quite comprehensive
governmental database with consolidated texts of legislation, including older
versions, is available for free on the Internet. The database is very
interesting for high level legal research. The search engine offers lots of
possibilities, and texts are in Dutch and French. Actually, this legislation
database is part of a set of databases; other databases involve case law and a
bibliography of legal texts, all of them published by the Justice Department.
They will all be mentioned in this guide later.
The name of this legislation database is indeed "Consolidated Legislation", if you can call that a name. But the mentioned total set of databases from the Justice Department has been called Justel, Judoc, E-justice, Juridat and recently Justel again. Also their URL's have been subject to quite some changes and caused a lot of confusion since 2000 to this very day. You can reach them in different ways:
· www.juridat.be is the official website of the Belgian Judicial Power (the Belgian Courts).
· www.just.fgov.be is the website of the Federal Justice Department.
· www.cass.be is the webserver of the "Court de Cassation", the Supreme Court.
BelgiumLex (BelgieLex - BelgiqueLex)
The Justice Department is not the only governmental body that produces a legislative database. The Council of State and Parliament have likewise developed their own databases over the years. So finally, in an effort to sum this all up and somehow trying to end the confusion, the government created another website with an apparently very clear name, www.belgiumlex.be. BelgiumLex is not a database itself; rather it is a portal to give an overview of all governmental legal databases, pointing to the various databases from the Justice Department, the Parliament and the three highest courts. However, it might not end the confusion, because it gives access to legislation and case law at the same time. Furthermore, it points to new databases like Reflex from the Council of State, that are not easy to use. Reflex is a legislation database without full text, but it will give the complete history of every article of a law in all its details.
For some years, Kluwer Belgium has had a CD-ROM, called "Tweetalige Wetboeken Story" (TWS). This CD was derived from a huge loose-leaf series with the same name, which used to be the primary source of consolidated legislation for two decades. In January 2000, they included this database on their general legal database www.jura.be, that also includes case law and more (see below). The consolidation of texts in Jura has been done completely separate from Juridat (Justel) or Reflex, so this represents another, private owned, consolidation of the same Belgian legislation. Dutch and French texts are available. Unlike the official databases, Jura is not for free, since it is from a commercial publisher. By the way, TWS continues to exist on paper and as a CD-ROM, although the end might be near now.
All regional Flemish legislation appears in the Official Gazette and most of it can be found the databases Juridat and Jura. But the Flemish government offers also a free database on its website with all Flemish legislation since beginning of the eighties. www.codex.vlaanderen.be has good search possibilities and offers consolidated texts.
Wallex and Gallilex
All regional Walloon legislation appears in the Official Gazette and most of it can be found the databases Juridat and Jura. But the Walloon government offers also a free database on its website with a selection of its legislation, called wallex.wallonie.be. The French Community has its own, Gallilex.
Codes Larcier (via Strada, Larcier), Codes belges (CD, Bruylant), Lexact (Vandenbroele)
Codes Larcier and Codes belges are two classic paper collections with only French texts of Belgian legislation. Larcier has a Dutch version since 1994, called Larcier Wetboeken. Both collections are available on CD-ROM. The Codes Larcier is also available through www.strada.be, the new (2005) online resource by publisher Larcier (see below). Strada also offers a search engine (DBDoc) to search all official websites, including the legislation databases from the Justice Department. Finally, www.uitgeverij.vandenbroele.be has a legislation database called Lexact.
Online specific legislation
Various federal and regional government departments and other (official) organisations have developed interesting websites with legislative databases on specific legal topics. They offer not just laws and regulations, but also lower administrative rulings etcetera. Some examples are:
· www.fisconet.fgov.be - Tax legislation from the federal government
· www.ond.vlaanderen.be/edulex - Education legislation from the Flemish government
· www.juridisk.be - Social legislation from Standaard Uitgeverij
Smaller printed code editions and Loose-leafs
A number of smaller editions of updated codes exist, published by various publishers. An overview can be found at www.rechtgenoot.be, chapter 1.2.4 (Zakwetboeken). Legislation on specific topics sometimes leads to the existence of large loose-leaf series with all relevant legislation assembled, e.g. environmental or education law.
Documents of the European Parliament can be found on www.europarl.eu.int. COM Documents, the preparatory texts of the European Commission, are available since 1999 on europa.eu.int/eur-lex. Celex is not updated anymore since 2005, while the content of other servers like europa.eu.int/prelex will probably also be included in the new Eur-Lex when its construction is finished.
Council of Europe
Since most of the treaties or recommendations of the Council of Europe are only soft law, the work of this parliament is not that important. Surf to www.coe.int for the Parliamentary Assembly or the Committee of Ministers.
Federal Parliament: Chamber + Senate
www.fed-parl.be is the website of the Federal Parliament that leads you to the websites of the two chambers.
The first chamber is the Chamber (www.dekamer.be or www.lachambre.be). Since the last reform of 1993, this chamber adopts all regular laws. A huge project to scan all historical documents of the Chamber in PDF, has finally (in 2005) resulted in the availability of all documents since the early roots of the Belgian Kingdom, thus from 1830 until today. Having this massive collection completely online is extremely convenient for legal research.
The second chamber is called the Senate (www.senate.be) and is reformed into a "reflection" chamber since 1993: it will only go over very important laws (e.g. changes of the constitution) and it will discuss ethical-legal issues like euthanasia. Due to the same project as mentioned for the Chamber, the Senate has put all its documents since 1830 free on their website in 2006, be it with only few search possibilities for documents older than 1995.
www.vlaamsparlement.be is the website of the Parliament of the Flemish region. All documents since its existence (1971) are online in PDF.
Walloon and Francophone Parliament
parlement.wallonie.be is the website of
the Parlement de la Région Wallone.
www.pcf.be is the website of the Parlement de la Communauté Française.
These websites also offer access to some of the documents or debates but are not very complete.
Brussels Institutions and Germanophones
www.bruxelles.irisnet.be is the portal site for all the parliamentary and governmental sites of the Brussels region. The structure of this region (with its own parliament!) is not easy to understand for a foreigner, keep away if you can. The small German speaking community has www.dglive.be as a portal.
www.belgium.be is the general federal portal that contains governmental information and links to many other official websites, governmental departments and regional institutions.
About Law Reports and Law Reviews
Like in other European civil law systems, Law Reports don't have the same content and importance as in common law systems. Generally speaking, case law is reported in all kinds of general and specialized private owned law reviews. The choice as to what they will report is entirely in the hands of the editorial boards of these journals, they just pick out judgments they assume to be interesting to their readers. These law reviews very often add their own commentaries and keywords to the reported judgments. Furthermore, they rather limit the reporting to the important parts of the judgment, or even more, they give only short abstracts of the text of a judgment. By the way, these law reviews will publish scholarly articles in the same issue, that have nothing to do with the reported case law.
This has been the way of law reporting in most European countries for many years. One of the results is that many judgments are not reported at all (although they might qualify), whereas very important decisions are reported several times in different journals, including the official law report. Indeed, although their case law can be found in several journals, the highest courts of the country tend to have a specific publication where their judgments are reported separately, on paper or electronically. These separate publications are the only real law reports in Belgium. With the Internet making it a lot easier for a court to publish its own decisions (if it wants to), these kind of electronic law reports will probably gain importance in the future, to the detriment of the law reviews, who will have to focus more on commentaries and articles.
European Court of Justice
European Court of Human Rights
www.echr.coe.int offers full text in English and French of the complete case law of the ECHR.
Constitutional Court (Grondwettelijk Hof, Cour Constitutionnelle)
The actual name and URL of this court needs a short
historical explanation. Until 2005 this court was named "Court of
Arbitration" (Arbitragehof, Cour d'Arbitrage, Schiedshof) and it had the
This was rather confusing to most (foreign) lawyers, because the court has
indeed nothing to do with commercial or international arbitration. So why this
confusing name? Until 1980 Belgium had no constitutional court at all, like the
Netherlands but unlike France. After turning Belgium into a federal state in
the seventies, a court was created to resolve conflicts between the federal
bodies and the regional bodies. It had to "arbitrate" between them,
hence its name. It still has that function today, by the way. In 1989, the
competence of the Court was extended to include the supervision of the
observance of a few articles of the Constitution, basically those guaranteeing
the principles of equality and non-discrimination. In 2003 the competence was
extended again and it became now a full constitutional court, reviewing all
laws for compliance with the Constitution. Therefore, in 2005 its name was
changed into Constitutional Court, with new URL's in all three languages of the
country: www.courconstitutionnelle.be - www.grondwettelijkhof.be
It offers the full text in Dutch, French and German of all case law of the court since its beginnings. It has a full text search facility, along "Registers" or "Tables" in PDF that can help to look for cases through catchwords and other criteria. On the other hand, the same case law can be found on www.juridat.be (see below), which has a better search engine. There is also a paper version reporter by private publisher Vanden Broele.
Council of State -- Administrative High Court (Raad van State, Conseil d'Etat)
www.raadvst-consetat.be offers full
text of all case law of the court since 1994, but with only limited search
capabilities, being a full text search in PDF documents. Older cases are
only available in two paper reporters "Verzameling van arresten van de
Raad van State" and "Recueil des arrets du Conseil d'état", both
language versions by private publisher UGA.
But the Council of State is not only a court for judicial review, it also advises government and parliament about the quality of new legislation. The comments it makes on draft bills are sometimes published in the Official Gazette, but more often added to the documents of the parliaments and can thus be found on their websites. However, quite a lot of these legislative comments are not published at all, although the Council recently started considering to do so. One hopes it is also considering changing the URL of its website into www.raadvanstate.be and www.conseildetat.be.
Supreme Court (Hof van Cassatie, Cour de Cassation)
www.cass.be offers all cases of this court in French and Dutch in full text since 1990. Furthermore it holds home-made summaries of all case law since 1965, which is very often quite helpful, even without the full text of the case. Full text of cases before 1990 can be found in the official paper reports "Arresten van het Hof van Cassatie" (Official Printing Office) or "Bulletin des arrêts de la Cour de cassation" (Bruylant). The French series is at the same time Part I of the Pasicrisie (see below).
Courts of Appeal and lower case law
The Supreme Court database is in fact part of the larger Juridat "Jurisprudence" database at www.juridat.be. However, at this moment Supreme Court decisions form the core and the bulk of this database, because the cases that are reported from lower courts and tribunals are sparse and have not been selected properly. They are in the database mere by chance, with the excepetion of labour law cases. This situation is not likely to improve in the near future, although the Phenix project of the Justice Department envisages the online reporting of all cases brought before Belgian courts. Presently, lower case law is still published mainly in the law reviews (see below).
Some special courts
· www.courbeneluxhof.be - Benelux Court, renders cases on Uniform Benelux Laws, e.g. trademarks, motor vehicle liability insurance
Pasicrisie belge (Bruylant)
This is the only Belgian paper case law reporter in the strict sense. It is in French only and publishes the Supreme Court decisions (Part I), a selection of Appeal cases (Part II), and a very selective number of cases of lower tribunals (Part III). Because it's interest is decreasing rapidly, Bruylant decided in 2003 only to maintain Part I. However, it is still very important for old case law, because it goes back to the 18th century and is the main source for those antique judgments.
As already mentioned above, just like other continental European law reviews, Belgian law reviews will publish scholarly articles alongside selected case law and commentaries. The cases they report are chosen according to the subject the journal is interested in, no matter what level of jurisdiction. Because lower case law is thus spread out over a multitude of law reviews, it is very imported to have general journal indexes (databases) to find relevant case law at all. Those (electronic) journal indexes give indeed access (references) to the case law and the articles in all those paper journals. Although e-journals are coming up stronger since 2004 (see below), a lot of journals still exist only on paper, which makes electronic (online) indexes still indispensable for legal research.
6.1 Journal Indexing
The "Index to foreign legal periodicals" (Wilson/Silverplatter) covers just a handful of Belgian law reviews. It can hardly be used for legal research with some depth. It is inevitable to use Belgian tools for that purpose.
Jura or Judit CD-Rom
The website www.jura.be by Kluwer contains, apart
from legislation, also the contents of the CD-ROM Judit that is discussed under
chapter 2. Jura (Judit) has a bibliographic part with references to articles
and other smaller legal texts. They are more up to date than those in Juridat
(see below), but the quality of the selection is less impartial: a lot of stuff
published by Kluwer is indexed more heavily than articles and books from other
publishers. But overall, it is a quite complete database of Belgian legal
articles, regardless where they are published.
Legislation and bibliography aside, Jura also has an important case law part. About 150.000 cases are indexed with summaries, referring to the full text spread over all Belgian paper law journals. In as much as Jura is presenting full text of some journals since 2005 (see below), some judgments are available in full text now. Important cases are indexed more than once under several headings. The interface is available in French and Dutch, but the summaries are more often in Dutch since the database has Flemish roots.
Jura (Judit) is still the most important legal database in the country by all standards.
Apart from legislation and case law (see above), the database
has an important bibliographic part. It holds references about Belgian books
and law review articles since 1965. It is a free database, but nevertheless a
good way to start a search for articles on Belgian law. This database is
limited to articles, so no case law is included.
The part of Juridat that does contain case law ("Jurisprudence") was already mentioned discussing the Supreme Court database. The cases in this database that are reported from lower courts and tribunals are, as said, not a very good selection, apart from the social law cases. It is not a journal indexing database either, since it just gives a summary of the case, with no reference to a journal where it was published.
RAJBi (via Strada, Larcier)
The "Recueil Annuel de la Jurisprudence Belge" used to be a paper index in the form of a yearbook, which has been put on a CD-ROM in 1996 with a new edition every year. In 2005 it was at last put online, as part of the new website www.strada.be (see below). Like Jura and Juridat, it is a national reporter, but this one focuses a bit more on the Francophone judgments. It has a bibliographic part for journal articles too, but this is rather limited.
"Rechtsgids" by Kluwer was a loose-leaf indexing tool in some
20 volumes for Belgian law in general. It lists by subject all relevant
legislation, case law and legal literature, referring to journals were they
were published. Publication was abandoned in 2004.
"Repertoire decennal de la jurisprudence belge" is a classic tool, referring to case law in journals only. It was published every 10 years since 1880 and stopped in 1980, thus being only suitable for older case law.
6.2 Legal journals and e-journals
Belgium has a core of 100 printed law reviews. On top of that, probably another 100 titles can be regarded as focusing at least partly on legal matters. At this very moment (2005), a commission of academic jurists at the www.vlir.be is trying to rank the national legal journals (giving them an A, B or C level) based on the quality of their articles. Such ranking is highly unusual in European countries and awaited with quite some skepticism. The lists below probably contain all future A-level and most B-level law reviews.
Some journals are more than 100 years old (all in French), but most of them date from after World War II. New journals are born regularly, like in other countries. About 30% are bilingual, 30% in French, 40% in Dutch. For every field of law one or more specialized journal exist, be it not always in both languages.
As mentioned in chapter 2, since the end of 2004, e-journals are finally making their way because the five major journal publishers decided to put their journals online. Intersentia has the most widespread Flemish journal "Rechtskundig Weekblad" online since 2004. It is definitely the most venturing (new) publisher in the country, having recently acquired some interesting international titles like the European Banking and Financial Law Journal, European Journal of Social Security, Journal of Network Industries, Maastricht Journal of European and Comparative Law, and the Netherlands Quarterly of Human Rights.
Jura - www.kluwer.be
Kluwer makes its e-journals available through its main database www.jura.be by way of a pay per view system. When using the reference database and encountering a reference to a text in one of the journals below, you may click through to the full text, if you agree to pay the price for the article or case. This is the only way, you can't have a subscription to the e-journals as such, neither can you browse the journals issue by issue. This also implies that citation data like volume, issue or page number, are not enough to find the online text. You need the title and author (for an article), or the date and court (for a case), unless of course you are searching by subjects or keywords. Finally, there are no cross-references in the full texts, all texts are flat PDF's. So somehow, you might raise the question if we are talking about e-journals at all, maybe it might better be described as e-articles and e-cases.
In 2005 about 20 journals are online; by 2006 this should be more than 30 titles. Most titles start coverage in 1999.
Strada - www.larcier.be
Larcier makes its e-journals available through its main database www.strada.be but also through separate websites for each journal. Either way, there is a fixed subscription price to be paid for every journal, regardless of the usage. Searching in Strada is basically always in the full text, but you can limit your search by dates. You will find articles and cases, due to the nature of Belgian law reviews, as explained above. There are cross-references in the full texts, everything is HTML, if you consult the journal within Strada. You can browse the issues if you visit the websites of the journal itself. So in many respects (pricing, searching, browsing, linking), this is quite the opposite policy than that of the Kluwer Jura database.
Older titles start coverage in 1997, but there are quite a number of recently acquired or started journals. In 2005 only 7 journals started online, by 2006 this should be more than 20 titles.
Die Keure - La Charte
www.diekeure.be, or www.lacharte.be owns about 15 law reviews and has put them online through www.jurisquare.be. This is a database with yet another philosophy than the above mentioned Jura and Strada. It offers e-journals only, combines several publishers (including also Bruylant and Intersentia), access is based on the existing paper subscription for each journal. Unfortunately, it lacks browsing facilities just like the other two.
The rest of the legal journals come from a wide range of smaller legal publishers and all kinds of organisations and (learned) societies. Some of them have their own websites, with content more or less freely available. A shortlist:
Like France, Belgium has a tradition of comprehensive encyclopedias, covering all the law in keywords. But these are all at least 50 years old and have not been updated seriously in recent times:
Also not updated are the few classic treatises (on private law) in several volumes, with the very recent exception of Dekkers:
Modern series are numerous, but only a few have gained fame among the public:
Important for legal practice are books with forms and legal dictionaries:
Some English language introductions to Belgian law:
The International Encyclopaedia of Laws, Kluwer, Loose-leaf (general editor R. Blanpain) has some basic treatises in parts of Belgian law (most recent are listed first):
Quite important books are so-called "Liber Amicorum", essays in memory of retired law professors. Also of interest are yearly updating courses for practitioners, held by law schools. They are then published as a book afterwards, e.g. the Cyclus Delva (Ghent) or Commission du Droit et Vie des Affaires (Liège). Lists of these books can be found in www.rechtgenoot.be under chapter 1.6 and 1.9.
Writing treatises on the various fields of law is not exactly what most Belgian law professors are keen on. Most of them combine their academic job with legal practice, which leaves no time for writing treatises, let alone updating them. Some branches of law have therefore no recent, more or less comprehensive textbooks, although the situation is getting better. The German tradition of big "commentaries" is non-existant in Belgium, neither is the English tradition of classic treatises with 20 or more editions, e.g. "Chitty on Contracts". There are only two textbooks with a somewhat longer tradition (more than 10 editions over a period of 30 years): Tiberghien on tax law and Mast on administrative law. Even French doings like the "Juris-Classeur" or "Encyclopédie Dalloz" have no real counterpart in Belgian legal publishing.
However, there are some
basic textbooks, and all of them are listed in the bibliographic website www.rechtgenoot.be.
This is the revised new version of what used to be the "(Elementaire)
Bibliografie Belgisch Recht", a bibliography that existed as a booklet and
a website at the time until 1999. In Rechtgenoot you will find the
treatises at the top of every subject. It contains now more than 3000 titles,
books, journal titles, loose-leafs and databases all together. You can use the
classification or search for keywords. Furthermore, it has a list of the best
100 or 250 basic textbooks under the heading "basiswerken". What
follows now is the top 100 as it stands on june 2005. About half of these
titles are regularly updated (check the website for new editions). The list
starts with public law subjects, followed by civil and commercial law, criminal
law, information law, social and tax law, all this in 14 different chapters. Sometimes,
an important online resource on the subject is added.
Constitutional Law and Human Rights
(2005 to be published)
Environmental and Planning Law
Expertise, Seizure and Arbitration
Private International Law
Civil Law (general)
Obligations and Contracts
Property and Trust Law
Family and Youth Law
Family Property Law
Commercial and Insolvency Law
Competition and Fair Trade Law
Intellectual Property and Information law
Social Security Law
www.rechtslinks.be is a portal with legal websites for Belgian lawyers, with a search facility. It has a national part (left side of the screen) and an international part (right side of the screen). The left side can be considered as a list of most legal Belgian websites, useful for people looking for Belgian law on the web. But since the classification is in Dutch, this translation of the basic topics might help:
www.rechtsaf.be lists all abbreviations used for Belgian legal journals, with a search facility.
Appendix: Printed Research Guides to Belgian Law (in French or Dutch)