UPDATE: Research Guide to Belgian Law
By Christoph Malliet and François Desseilles
Christoph Malliet has a degree in Philosophy (1983). He has been 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, last ed. 1999). Publications on the Internet include rechtslinks.be, a former list of Belgian legal websites, now abolished, a list of Belgian legal journal abbreviations, and the online version of the mentioned printed bibliography. More recently, he mounted the project Rechtsreeks.be, an open access platform for pre-2000 Belgian legal journals and books. He published some articles on the Belgian legal publishing industry.
François Desseilles has been specializing in Cultural Heritage Law (University Paris-Sud XI, 2011) after obtaining a Master’s degree in Law (2009) and a Bachelor’s in History (2010) at the University of Liège (ULg, Belgium). He practiced for several years as a scientific officer, as law and criminology librarian at the Law, Economics, Management, Social sciences Léon Graulich Library of the University of Liege (Belgium), where he is still scientific fellow researcher at the Faculty of Law, Political Science & Criminology. He is now administrator at the Court of Justice of the European Union Library Directorate (Luxembourg) and advisor attached to the Library Director.
Published September/October 2022
(Previously updated by Christoph Malliet in September/October 2007, October 2010, and in April 2017)
Table of Contents
- 1. The Belgian Legal System in a Nutshell
- 2. Developments in Belgian Legal Documentation
- 3. Legal Documentation
- 3.1. International Sources of Law
- 3.2. Constitution
- 3.3. Legislation and Preparatory Texts
- 3.3.1. Legislation
- 220.127.116.11. Chronologically Published
- 18.104.22.168. Consolidated Public Sources
- 22.214.171.124. Consolidated Private Sources
- 3.3.2. Parliamentary Documents (Parliaments and Preparatory Texts)
- 3.3.1. Legislation
- 3.4. Case Law (About Law Reports and Law Reviews)
- 3.5. Doctrine (Legal Scientific Literature)
- 3.5.1. Law Reviews
- 3.5.2. Main Periodicals (By Publisher and Corresponding Database)
- 3.5.3. Books
- 3.6. Abbreviations and Citation Style
1. The Belgian Legal System in a Nutshell
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, Council of State). A constitutional court has only been set up in recent time (1980, Court of Arbitration now Constitutional Court). Although the Belgian state has undergone severe constitutional changes since this date, the court system has still not been deeply touched by these yet. In 2014, the late reorganization of the state has restricted the transfer of competences regarding justice to judicial proceedings policy, justice’s houses, first-line legal aid and young people welfare. It has also been reaffirmed that the judicial organization, procedure, execution of court rulings and enforcement of sentences are of federal competence.
Court System: The court system still very much resembles the French system where it was derived from. The ordinary courts rank in four levels: "Tribunal de Police/Politierechtbank" (criminal) and "Justice de Paix/Vredegerechten" (civil) are the lowest levels for small felonies or conciliation matters. Normal starting level (first instance) is the "Tribunal de Première Instance/Rechtbank van Eerste Aanleg" (civil and criminal), which is called correctional court or juvenile court in criminal matters. Recently, specialized tax chambers were added to the formal organization 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/Court of Assizes", the only Belgian court with a jury. The appeal level is the "Cour d’appel/Hof van Beroep", where civil, criminal, and commercial matters are dealt with; only the "Cour du travail/Arbeidshof" is a specific appeal court for social law cases coming from the lower labour tribunals. Finally, the "Cour de cassation/Hof van Cassatie" 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 of these are 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 deals with the fact that the use of either the Dutch or the 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 beginning 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. Because territory and language did not match the same entities, different regions as well as different language communities were established, both 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. These constitutional changes, starting in 1970, have to this day still not come to their end. The years 1980, 1988, 1993, 2001 and 2014 all marked the shifting of power to the regions and communities.
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 roughly depending on whether it is on one hand material competences (as economics and urban planning) and on the other hand people related competence (as education and culture).
Being not only part of the European Union but also 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. However, the importance of this European dimension is evident and keeps growing (as the percentage of national bills transposing European legislation), so the most important legislative and judicial institutions and their output are briefly mentioned in this guide.
For more information about the Belgian legal system, please refer to section 3.4.
2. Developments in Belgian Legal Documentation
2.1. The Paper History: Private and Public Publishing
Belgian legal publishing has never been a really booming business. It suffers from the small size of the country, which is even worsened by the fact that publishers must choose either the Dutch or French language. The Belgian section of the worldwide legal publisher Wolters Kluwer has been dominating 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 annotated 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 but less than before with the internet. However, as in most other European civil law countries, the publishing of lower-case law lies almost entirely in the hands of commercial legal journals, although this is slightly changing in the sense that governmental databases start publishing online lower-case law (see below). Most journals are published by Wolters Kluwer and Larcier-Bruylant, followed by Die Keure - La Charte. The loose-leaf market is almost entirely in the hands of Kluwer, Die Keure has quit loose-leaf publishing. When it comes to treatises and books, Intersentia, Larcier-Bruylant and Die Keure rival Kluwer. Some smaller legal publishers are Maklu, Anthemis, Vanden Broele, Story Publishers (part of Brepols Publisher), Politeia and Biblo (until 2003 when all the titles of the latter were taken over by Roularta Media Group).
2.2. 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. Judit was 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 had to get hold on the paper products, which it refers to: The Official Gazette, the law reviews, and books. Two features were 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 already started in the sixties with the building of the Justel dial-in databases at the Ministry of Justice. However, 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. Suddenly, 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.
2.3. 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 Kluwer Connexion 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. Today, Kluwer Connexion seems not yet completely dead…
In 2004, Larcier published a new website called Strada, offering various full text resources, including some important law reviews. This was a breakthrough and was almost instantly (spring 2005) followed by an important enlargement of the content of Jura with full text of most law reviews that Kluwer publishes. Not much later, autumn 2005, Jurisquare appeared on the scene, regrouping three other publishers Intersentia, Die Keure and Bruylant. Jurisquare’s content is limited to full text of law journals only. To challenge the market leader Jura, the two new databases Strada and Jurisquare, joined forces autumn 2006, by offering each other journals on both their websites. Outnumbered in the quantity of e-journals by both Strada and Jurisquare, Kluwer started to add more content to Jura by increasing the number of loose-leaf works in online form in Jura, their Kluwerconnexion meeting with very little success anyhow.
All this means that in the three-year time (2004-2007), we went from almost no commercial e-full text at all, to an overall availability of most all-important journals and loose-leafs. Spring 2007 marked the restart (new interface, new URL) of the governmental Juridat case law database (see below) with the intention of adding more lower-case law in the future, but until now, this attempt clearly failed, it is still very much limited to Cassation case law.
Between 2009 and 2010 all three databases got new interfaces with new types of search facilities. Jurisquare introduced facetted searching in 2009, followed in 2010 by Jura and Strada. Renamed Strada lex at this occasion, this platform also introduced the automatic translation of search terms (Dutch-French) and a word cloud with related terms alongside the search results. In 2010, Jurisquare managed to make a deal with Kluwer to offer the Jura-owned journals on its website, just as it did with Strada in 2006. This means that now Jurisquare is a one-stop shop for nearly all legal journals of the country. Larcier and Bruylant which were formerly two separated publishers merged in 2011 and were bought out by the French publisher Editions Lefebvre Sarrut in 2016.
The interface of Strada lex has changed several times adding contents or moving features around (as the word cloud). This was the same on Jura as the advanced search was quite reduced to its smallest share. Since last years, there were a few changes to the search engine as the features of the autocompleting search, predictive text on both Jura and Strada lex.
2.4. E-Publishing: Enter E-Books
Legislation, case law and journals gone all online between 2000 and 2010, the next step could only be online books. Strada lex was the first database to publish e-books systematically in 2009, being Larcier imprints. After the take-over of Bruylant in 2011 they added Bruylant publications. However, access to the online book was only possible by buying the paper books. This cautious business model (to preserve the printed market) has been changed in 2016, with contracts with law firms offering global access to e-versions of all their books. Separate epub versions are still scarce with Larcier.
Jurisquare started online books in 2011, introducing a 750-package going 5 years back to 2006. Publishers involved are Intersentia, Die Keure-La Charte, Anthemis and Inni. From the start, access to ebooks on Jurisquare could be bought apart from paper versions. In 2022, more than 2800 books are available, only through Jurisquare, no e-reader formats.
Jura introduced e-books in 2012, but only a limited selection of the Kluwer paper publications, whereas Stradalex and Jurisquare have every paper book also electronically. Since 2019, Kluwer turned things completely around, and now publishes all new titles in e-reader format on Smarteca, the paper version can be obtained with no extra cost. However, on Jura only a selection of e-books is available.
2.5. Recent Developments and Prospects
Editions Lefebvre Sarrut Group (ELS) acquired the Flanders-born publishing house Intersentia in October 2018, whose Dutch-language works have been integrated into the Belgian portal of Strada lex while those in English are still available through the platform of the publisher Cambridge University Press.
Lefebvre Sarrut Belgium has multiplied its platforms: while refocusing its content for the Belgian market on the Strada lex Belgium portal, it developed specialized portals on the one hand - mainly for the French and foreign markets - for content relating to European union law, the Strada lex Europe portal, and, on the other hand, after integration of the Luxembourgish brand Promoculture, for content relating to Luxembourgish law, by creating a specialized portal for this market.
In 2019, the Anthemis publishing house has joined the fold of Legitech, a Luxembourg-based legal publishing company, Lexnow being their main product. With two of the three partners of Jurisquare acquired by publishers owning their own legal platform, the future of Jurisquare is at stake. Legitech will certainly develop a platform for its own content, the marketing of which will be oriented towards Belgium.
Both Wolters Kluwer Belgium and Lefebvre Sarrut Belgium have developed platforms where they promote corpus analysis using techniques from the sphere of artificial intelligence, e.g., respectively Legal Insights (termination of the employment contract) and SmartPartner Tax (tax case law).
3. Legal Documentation
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 "codified" into specific codes, a process started by Napoleon with the Civil Code in 1804 (Belgium was French territory at the time). However, codification is still going on today, e.g., the Company Code in 1999, the Code of PIL in 2004 or the Code of Economic Law in 2013. 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.
3.1. International Sources of Law
International Treaties: When an international treaty is ratified by Parliament (in some cases the question may rise which of the six (!) parliaments must 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 a treaty is in force.
The databases of the Belgian Council of State offers access to treaties from 1814 to the present day. It holds the treaties mentioned in the two volumes of the De Troyer work and then the treaties published in the Official Gazette after 1986.
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 Eur-Lex, the major legal database of the EU. Regularly, the Belgian Official Gazette sums up these regulations as a mere form of information, not reproducing the texts themselves. The National transposition measures can also be found on Eur-Lex, and it is possible to have an insight of them in the Belgian Council of State Database Reflex Europe.
The European Parliament also offers access to documents. COM Documents, the preparatory texts of the European Commission, are available since 1999 on Eur-Lex. The former Celex has been abolished.
The original constitution from 1831 was severely revised between 1970 and 1993. Therefore, a new version was issued on 17 February 1994. Since then, more changes have taken place, all of them incorporated in the official version on the website of the Senate, in Dutch or French.
3.3. Legislation and Preparatory Texts
126.96.36.199. Chronologically Published
Official Gazette: 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 1960s, 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) or from the Federal Public Services. 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 at that time. However, 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 and Other Historic Collections: These are some alternative paper collections, where the laws are published chronologically. Pasinomie dates to 1788, which is particularly 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 do not consolidate the texts. The Pasinomie and links to similar old collections on Hathi Trust are available online.
188.8.131.52. Consolidated Public Sources
Consolidated Legislation (Justel) (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. 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. However, the mentioned total set of databases from the Justice Department has been called Justel, Judoc, E-justice, Juridat and even Justel again. In addition, 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:
- The official website of the Belgian Judicial Power (the Belgian Courts).
- The website of the Federal Justice Department.
- The new website Tribunaux-Rechtbanken
BelgiumLex (BelgieLex - BelgiqueLex) and RefLex: The Justice Department is not the only governmental body that produces a legislative database. The Parliament and the Council of State have likewise developed their own databases over the years. To sum up, the government created another website with an apparently very clear name, BelgiumLex. 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 databases like refLex from the Council of State. 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. To get to the full text, links are established between refLex and Justel (consolidated legislation database). This idea of linking the various governmental databases is an important feature of BelgiumLex.
Since 2019, the SenLex database gather a collection of official information on Belgian institutional regulations. For each article of the main institutional regulations, the relevant extracts from parliamentary documents, the case law of the Constitutional Court and the opinions of the Council of State are displayed.
Regions and Cultural Communities: Vlaamse Codex: All regional Flemish legislation appears in the Official Gazette and most of it can be found in the databases Justel (public) and Jura (private owned). However, the Flemish government also offers a free database on its website with all Flemish legislation since beginning of the eighties. Vlaamse Codex 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 in the databases Justel (public) and Jura (private owned). However, the Walloon government also offers a free database on its website with a selection of its legislation, called Wallex. The French Community has its own Gallilex. The legislation of the Brussels-Capital region and the German speaking community can be found in the databases Justel (public).
Online Specific Legislation: Various federal and regional government departments and other (official) organizations 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:
- Fisconet - Tax legislation from the federal government
- Edulex - Education legislation from the Flemish government
184.108.40.206. Consolidated Private Sources
Jura: 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, Jura, that also includes case law and more (see below). The consolidation of texts in Jura has been done separate from 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, the set TWS-reeks continues to exist on paper.
Codes Larcier and Codes Belges (via Strada lex, Larcier and Bruylant): 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. The Codes Larcier are also available through Stradalex, the online resource by publisher Larcier (see below). Stradalex also offers a search engine to search all official websites, including the legislation databases from the Justice Department. Vanden Broele once had a legislation database called Lexact, now abolished. Die Keure created a small new database with all basic codes, called Omnilegie, re-using the name of the old print collection mentioned above.
Smaller Printed Code Editions and Loose-Leafs: A number of smaller editions of updated codes exist, published by various publishers—see an overview in 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.
3.3.2. Parliamentary Documents (Parliaments and Preparatory Texts)
Federal Parliament includes the Chamber and Senate. It is available on the website of the Federal Parliament, which leads researchers to the websites of the two chambers.
A huge project to scan all historical documents of the Chamber and Senate in PDF, has 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. Since 2008, these also include the oral debates (Hansards). The first chamber is the Chamber (De Kamer or La Chambre). Since the reform of 1993, this chamber adopts all regular laws. The second chamber is called the Senate 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. The website of the project Plenum is important to be mentioned as it allows users to search into the full text as far as 1844 in the complete compte rendu (Compte rendu intégral¸parliamentary annals).
Flemish Parliament: Access the website of the Parliament of the Flemish region. All documents since its creation (1971) are online in PDF form.
Walloon and Francophone Parliament: Access the website of the Parlement de la Région Wallone and the website of the Parlement de la Communauté Française. These websites also offer access to most of the documents or debates.
Brussels Institutions and Germanophones: Be.brussels is the portal site for all the parliamentary and governmental sites of the Brussels region (e.g. as for the competences of the Ministers and Secretaries of State of the Brussels regional government). The constitutional structure of this region—with its own parliament, divided in several sub-parliaments! —is not easy to understand for a foreigner (and often even for Belgians; keep away from it if you can). See the website of the Brussels parliament. The small German speaking community has DG Live as a general portal and pdg.be as its parliament portal.
3.4. Case Law (About Law Reports and Law Reviews)
Like in other European civil law systems, Law Reports do not have the same content and importance as in common law systems. 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.
Since spring 2007, the renewed Juridat case law database JureJuridat had indeed expressed the intention to publish more reports from the lower courts from then on, but this did not yield results. It is important to highlight some of the “hotchpotch” laws (mainly “Lois pot-pourri” from 19 October 2015 and 4 May 2016) that present a part concerning the computerization of the legal system and the courts. As of 15 December 2020, JureJuridat has been decommissioned outside the Federal Public Service Justice network. The case law that was included in it can still be retrieved and a new search engine has been made available: JUPORTAL. This database does also contain cases ("Jurisprudence") reported from lower courts and tribunals but not a very good selection, apart from the social law cases. It just gives a summary of the case, with no reference to a journal where it was possibly published (no indexing).
3.4.1. Law Reports (Case Law of the Higher Courts)
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 its website was “Arbitrage.be”. This was rather confusing to most (foreign) lawyers because the court has indeed nothing to do with commercial or international arbitration. So why does it carry 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 a full constitutional court, reviewing all laws for compliance with the Constitution. Therefore, after a few years of discussion, its name was changed into Constitutional Court in 2007, with new URL’s in all three languages of the country: Cour Constitutionelle, Grondwettelijk Hof, Verfassungs Hof. There is also an English URL: Const-Court. Nevertheless, the first URL is still in use and redirects to the actual portal.
It offers the full text in Dutch, French and German of all case law of the court since its beginning. It has a full text search facility, among many other possibilities to search on various criteria. On the other hand, the same case law can be found on JUPORTAL (see below). There was also a paper version reporter by private publisher Vanden Broele until 2013.
Council of State -- Administrative High Court (Raad van State, Conseil d’État): The Council of State offers full text of all case law of the court since 1994, but with only limited search capabilities when it was started in 1997: only full text search in PDF documents. A new interface has been launched in 2008, with more search facilities. 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 were by private publisher UGA. However, these paper reporters are not published anymore since 1994.
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. As from 2017, these opinions are published on the Council’s website, with all historic opinions made available on top. Inspired by the doings of the Constitutional Court, it adopted in 2007 wisely the aliases Raadvanstate and Conseil d’État.
Supreme Court (Hof van Cassatie, Cour de Cassation): Since the 2007 improvement of the database (Juridat at the time, now JUPORTAL), all cases of this court in French and Dutch are offered in full text since 1990. Furthermore, it holds homemade 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 Dutch paper reports "Arresten van het Hof van Cassatie" (Official Printing Office), or in French the "Bulletin des arrêts de la Cour de cassation" (Bruylant, until 2000). The French series is at the same time Part I of the Pasicrisie (see below in this chapter).
Courts of Appeal and Lower-Case Law: The just mentioned database JUPORTAL intends to publish many cases from lower courts. However, at this moment Supreme Court decisions form the core and the bulk of this database, because the cases that were reported in the past from lower courts and tribunals are sparse and have not been selected properly. They are in the database mere by chance, except for labour law cases. Presently, lower case law is still published mainly in the law reviews. The Belgian Parliament has recently decided to promote the online publication of Belgian case law, by reviewing article 149 of the Constitution and adopting the law of 5 May 2019. This law provides for the creation of a database of court judgments and cases. The government had a deadline of 1 September 2020 to adopt a royal decree that would have led to the effective implementation of this database. However, this deadline has been postponed three times already and is now 30 September 2023. The Federal Public Service Justice seems to have decided in July 2022 to stop the current public procurement procedure, reduce the real scope of the future procurement needs, and mainly rely on the internal IT staff and existing contracts to meet the need of that database. Stay tuned.
Some Special Courts
- Rekenhof or Cour des comptes - Court of Audit, controls the various governmental budgets
- Benelux Court, renders cases on Uniform Benelux Laws, e.g., trademarks, motor vehicle liability insurance
Pasicrisie belge (Pas., Bruylant/Larcier): 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 its interest is decreasing rapidly, Bruylant decided in 2003 only to maintain Part I which is still published by Lefebvre Sarrut Belgique. 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. See the Pasicrisie belge archives.
3.4.2. Law Reviews (Including Case Law of the Lower Courts)
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 important 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 today journals all exist online, they have rarely older content (before 2000) online, which makes electronic (online) indexes still rather important for academic legal research.
- For the complete case law of the European Court of Justice – ECJ (Eur-Lex and Curia), see – Alyson Drake, UPDATE: European Union Legal Materials: An Infrequent User’s Guide, GlobaLex (2021).
- For the full-text the European Court of Human Rights – ECHR cases (European Court of Human Rights), see – James W. Hart, UPDATE: The European Human Rights System, GlobaLex (2018).
3.5. Doctrine (Legal Scientific Literature)
The KU Leuven Law Faculty library has been digitizing larger and smaller journal archives and, since 2020, older legal books, with the goal of making them freely available in open access on rechtsreeks.be or lignedroit.be (free use for personal purposes, no commercial reuse allowed).
3.5.1. Law Reviews
Journal Indexing: The "Index to foreign legal periodicals" (AALL/Ovid) 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: The website Jura by Kluwer contains, apart from legislation, also 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, which results in 240.000 doctrine references altogether. Overall, it is a quite complete bibliographic database of Belgian legal articles, regardless of where they are published. This unique completeness makes it still a valuable tool.
Legislation and bibliography aside, Jura also has an important case law part. About 220.000 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.
Juridat "Bibliothèques": Apart from legislation and case law (see above), the portal Juridat has still 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.
RPRJ – POJT (via Stradalex, Larcier): The "Recueil Annuel de la Jurisprudence Belge” (RAJB) used to be a paper index in the form of a yearbook, which has been put online in 2005, as part of the new website Stradalex (then Strada). In 2007 the name changed from RAJBi into RPRJ, “Recueil Permanent des Revues Juridiques” (in French) or POJT, “Permanent Overzicht van Juridische Tijdschriften” (in Dutch). 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. It ceased to exist on paper in 2015 and has disappeared as a separate part in Stradalex in the new version of 2017.
Historic Printed Indexes:
- "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 where 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.
3.5.2. Main Periodicals (By Publisher and Corresponding Database)
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. In 2005 a commission of legal scholars at the VLIR ranked the national legal journals (giving them an A, B or C level) based on the quality of their articles. The result was heavily criticized and in 2009, a new attempt had been started, with no results.
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.
Since 2006, there are three important fee-based platforms that offer legal e-journals: Jura, Stradalex and Jurisquare. Jura (Wolters Kluwer) and Stradalex (Lefebvre Sarrut) are the product of one single publisher, whereas Jurisquare is a consortium of the “challenging publishers” (such as Anthemis, Die Keure and Intersentia at the time), along with some other even smaller players such as Vanden Broele). It is interesting to know that Stradalex and Jurisquare decided in 2007 to publish each other’s journals on their platforms. Since 2010, Jurisquare also publishes the Jura journals, thus offering all journals as the only platform of the three. Of course, to access all journals, one has to have a subscription to every journal.
Jura: Kluwer makes its e-journals available through its main database Jura by way of a pay per view system or through various forms of subscription to parts of the database. However, you cannot have an online subscription to the e-journals as such. Since the new search tool launched in 2010, full text searching in a Google-like manner is the standard procedure and facets can be used to reduce the number of search results. Only since 2014 you can browse the journals, which is common procedure in most European databases. Most titles start coverage in 1999. Apart from journals, Jura also contains a lot of former loose-leaf publications.
Stradalex Belgium: Larcier, Bruylant and since its integration in the group, Intersentia make their e-journals available through the database Stradalex Belgium. There is a fixed subscription price to be paid for every journal, regardless of the usage. Searching in Stradalex is basically always in the full text, but you can limit your search by dates, publishers, and (to some extent) subjects. You will find articles and cases, due to the nature of Belgian law reviews, as explained above. There are limited cross-references in the full texts, some are in PDF, and some are in HTML. Older titles start coverage in 1997, but there are several recently acquired or started journals. One of them is one of the oldest law reviews in Belgium, Journal des tribunaux.
Jurisquare (Die Keure, Anthemis and other publishers): This consortium database is quite straightforward: only e-journals and e-books, nothing else, unlike Jura and Stradalex that contain a lot more other texts. All texts are in PDF; full text searching is accompanied by other search possibilities like facets. Browsing the issues is quite easy. The pricing of the database implies that you must pay a normal (printed) subscription for each journal you want to access, apart from a global (small) price for the overall searching without full text access.
E-only journals: The Tijdschrift IPR - Revue DIP was for quite a while the only legal e-only journal in Belgium. This line was also taken by the Revue de droit et de criminologie de l’Université libre de Bruxelles a few years ago (e-legal). Recently in 2020, the classic KU Leuven student driven Jura Falconis has finally gone e-only as well. Is there more to come?
Informative lists: For informative lists of either open access law journals or digitized law journals (archives) in Belgium, please refer to the very efficient portal developed by the library of the law faculty of the KU Leuven (frame “Open access tijdschriften” for open access journals and “Tijdschriften – revues” for archives).
For an extensive and updated list of reference materials in Belgian law, please refer to the portal set up by the library of the Faculty of Law of the KU Leuven: Rechtgenoot. There are some English language introductions to Belgian law among them the most recent one by M. KRUITHOF & W. DE BONDT (ed.), Introduction to Belgian law, Kluwer Law International, 2017 (2n ed.).
The International Encyclopaedia of Laws published by Kluwer has some basic treatises in parts of Belgian law in English.
Encyclopedias, Series, Forms and Dictionaries: Like France, Belgium has a tradition of comprehensive encyclopedias, covering all the law in keywords. However, these are all at least 50 years old and have not been updated seriously in recent times. Most of them are now digitized or partially digitized.
- Les Pandectes Belges, Larcier (136 volumes)
- Les Novelles - Corpus Juris Belgici, Larcier (25 volumes)
- Répertoire Pratique du Droit Belge (RPDB), Bruylant (17+9 volumes); now the publication continues in the form of a series of monographs devoted to the in-depth study of a subject.
Also not updated are the few classic treatises (on private law) in several volumes, with the recent exception of Dekkers and De Page:
- R. DEKKERS, Handboek burgerlijk recht, 4 vols., 2005-2010, Intersentia
- F. LAURENT, Principes de droit civil, 31 vols., 1878, Bruylant
- H. DE PAGE, Traité élémentaire de droit civil belge, 10 vols., 1952-1975, Bruylant (several volumes have been updated since 2010)
- J. VAN RIJN, Principes de droit commercial, 4 vols., 1976-1988 (Vol 2. 1957), Bruylant
- L. FREDERICQ, Handboek Belgisch handelsrecht, 4 vols., 1976-1981, Bruylant
Modern series are numerous, but only a few have gained fame among the public:
- Artikelsgewijze Commentaren met Overzicht van Rechtspraak en Rechtsleer, Kluwer (loose-leaf and online via Jura)
- Beginselen van Belgisch Privaatrecht (BBPR), Kluwer
- Algemene Practische Rechtsverzameling (APR), Kluwer
- Répertoire Notarial (RN), Larcier (loose-leaf and online)
Legal dictionaries are scarce:
- LE DOCTE, Viertalig juridisch woordenboek - Dictionnaire de termes juridiques en quatre langues , Intersentia, 2011
- E. DIRIX, P. VAN ORSHOVEN & B. TILLEMAN (ed.), De Valks Juridisch woordenboek, Intersentia, 2021
- J. MOORS, Juridisch woordenboek Nederlands-Frans - Dictionnaire juridique Français-Néerlandais, Die Keure
Treatises and Textbooks: The vast majority of all these books, except for the books older than 2008, have a paper and an online version, as we mentioned earlier in chapter 2. Books published by Larcier, Bruylant or Intersentia (in Dutch for the latter) can be found on Strada lex Belgique, books published by, Die Keure and Anthemis are available through Jurisquare, books published by Kluwer are partly available on Jura.
All basic textbooks are listed in the bibliographic Rechtgenoot. In Rechtgenoot, you will find the treatises at the top of every subject. It now contains more than 5000 titles, books, journal titles, loose-leafs and databases altogether. 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 "Top handboeken".
- Printed Research Guides to Belgian Law (in French or Dutch)
- General Introductions
- Constitutional Law and Human Rights
- Administrative Law and Public Procurement
- Environmental and Planning Law
- Medical Law
- Procedural Law
- Private International Law
- Civil Law
- Commercial, Company and Insolvency Law
- Economic Law (Competition, Consumer law, Financial Law)
- Intellectual Property and Information Law
- Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure
- Social Law, Labour Law, Social Security Law
- Tax Law
3.6. Abbreviations and Citation Style
Rechtsaf lists all abbreviations used for Belgian legal journals, with a search facility.
- Guide des citations, références et abréviations juridiques (CRA), 6th ed, 2017, Kluwer (free on the web)
- Juridische verwijzingen en afkortingen the ‘paper guide’ has been transposed in 2021 into an online-only version which is still free and updated once a year.
Several initiatives to code the citation style have taken place:
- Flemish initiative (on Jurism itself based on Zotero)
- Francophone initiative (on Zotero)