Minister of Justice wants to enforce written procedure during lockdown

Belgium

In Belgium, the Minister of Justice, Koen Geens, has proposed a draft Royal Decree aimed at generalising the written procedure for all disputes currently pending before the Belgian courts.

The draft aims both to extend the time limits for proceedings before the civil and administrative courts and to impose the written procedure for civil proceedings, initially until 5 April, but subject to extension.

The draft provides for the following:

  • In terms of time limits: all time limits expiring during this period would be automatically extended until one month after the expiry of the lockdown period, with a further extension possible.

    For example, if a deadline for filing an appeal expires during the lockdown period, which is currently set to end on 5 April 2020, this deadline will be automatically extended by one month from the end of the lockdown period, i.e. 5 May 2020.

  • In terms of written procedure:

    • A transition period of one week, meaning that all civil cases before the courts and tribunals that are set for a hearing within seven days of publication of the text in the Belgian Official Gazette would be automatically postponed by one week. From the second week, all procedure will be dealt with through the written procedure, as explained in the next point.

    • Eight days after publishing the text, all civil cases pending before the courts and tribunals and with hearings scheduled during the lockdown period would almost necessarily be dealt with through the written procedure, by applying Article 755 of the Belgian Judicial Code.

There have been many objections about the draft from legal professionals, in particular magistrates and lawyers, who consider that automatically postponing cases is unnecessary and could lead to further disorder in the organisation of judicial agendas. Systematic recourse to the written procedure is also criticised for not respecting the will of the parties and the principle of the trial mechanism.

The final text has not yet been published in the Belgian Official Gazette.