Belgium - Judicial system

Belgian law is modeled on the French legal system. The judiciary is an independent branch of government on an equal footing with the legislative and the executive branches. Minor offenses are dealt with by justices of the peace and police tribunals. More serious offenses and civil lawsuits are brought before district courts of first instance. Other district courts are commerce and labor tribunals. Verdicts rendered by these courts may be appealed before 5 regional courts of appeal or the 5 regional labor courts in Antwerp, Brussels, Ghent, Mons, and Liège. All offenses punishable by prison sentences of more than five years must be dealt with by the eleven courts of assize (one for each province and the city of Brussels), the only jury courts in Belgium. The highest courts are five civil and criminal courts of appeal and the supreme Court of Cassation. The latter's function is to verify that the law has been properly applied and interpreted. The constitutionality of legislation is the province of the Council of State, an advisory legal group.

When an error of procedure is found, the decision of the lower court is overruled and the case must be tried again. The death penalty was abolished for all crimes in Belgium in 1996.

A system of military tribunals, including appellate courts, handle both military and common-law offenses involving military personnel. The government is considering narrowing the jurisdiction of these courts to military offenses. All military tribunals consist of four officers and a civilian judge.

Detainees must be brought before a judge within 24 hours of arrest. Although there are provisions for bail, it is rarely granted. Defendants have right to be present, to have counsel, to confront witnesses, to present evidence, and to appeal.

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