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Belgium: IALS Library Guides

An introduction to legal research in the jurisdiction of Belgium

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Last updated:

Alice Tyson, December 2017

About the author

This guide was created by Lisa Davies, former Access Librarian at the IALS Library.

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Introduction

The Kingdom of Belgium is a constitutional monarchy, and a unitary state in transition into a linguistically and regionally determined federation. Belgium was formed into an independent state in 1830, and is one of the modern nation-states configured out of long independent linguistic regions where language differences can cause governmental and constitutional problems. Official languages are French; Dutch; and German, which has official status in one district only. Dutch is spoken by the Flemish section of the population in the north, French by the Walloon south, and German is spoken in a small collection of communes near the German border. The linguistic frontier bisects Brussels, which is bilingual. In 1957, Belgium was one of the original signatories of the Treaty of Rome creating the European Communities, and in 1948 Belgium joined with Luxembourg and the Netherlands in creating the Benelux Economic Union .

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Constitution

The Belgian Constitution was promulgated on 7 February 1831 after the separation of Belgium from the Netherlands. Its principal provisions have remained largely unchanged since that date, although it has been amended on various occasions. The most important amendments occurred in 1989 when three autonomous regions, Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels, were created out of what had been a unitary nation-state. After the conquests by Napoleon in 1795, the French codes were imposed on the Belgian provinces, and remained in application in the new Kingdom of Belgium in 1830. The following versions of the Belgian constitution are available in IALS:

Delperee F and Renders D, Code constitutionnel: textes en vigueur au 1 janvier 2005. (5rd edn, Bruylant, 2005)
[French version]

Raworth P (ed), Constitutions of dependencies and territories. (Oceana Publications, 1975-)
[English version updated to 2008]

Electronic versions of the constitution are freely available in German, Dutch and French on the Belgian Senate website.  An English version is available on the House of Representatives website.  Consolidated and original texts of the constitution are also available in World Constitutions Illustrated on HeinOnline on the Electronic Law Library.

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Codes and statutes

Consolidated legislation

Belgium's civil law system is based on five codes: the Code civil (Civil Code); Code de commerce (Commercial Code); Code pénal (Penal Code); Code d'instruction criminelle (Criminal Procedure Code) and Code judiciaire (Civil Procedure Code). The present civil and penal codes are still very close to the French originals whereas the commercial code has adapted to Belgian tradition and practice. Civil procedure law has changed substantially and the French model Code de procédure civile has been abandoned with the introduction of the Belgian Code judiciaire of 1967. Criminal procedure has also been greatly modified by the amendments of 1978. In addition to the five major codes, there are important laws on fiscal, social and administrative matters, as well as rural and military regulations.

There is no official compilation or official codifications as such. The accepted compilation is the commercially published Les Codes Larcier. This is a French-language compilation of Belgian legislation in force. The current edition is:

Les Codes Larcier. Edition 2016. Tomes I-4.  (Larcier 2016, with supplements for 2017)

This work is totally comprehensive for current research demands, and makes individual editions of laws unnecessary unless one desires annotations. This is available in the Institute's Library, and, as Supplements are published every six months, is fairly up-to-date. Les Codes Larcier is also available on the commercial database Stradalex, to which IALS does not subscribe.

The Juridat database is a key source of freely available online legislation which includes a comprehensive searchable full-text consolidated set of legislation (as well as the Moniteur belge).

Chronological legislation

Moniteur belge / Belgisch Staatsblad (Bruxelles, Direction du Moniteur Belge, 1831-)

This is the Belgian official government gazette, which officially publishes laws, regulations and decrees, etc. It is published daily (except on Sundays, Mondays and legal holidays) with French and Dutch parallel texts. It has quarterly and annual alphabetical subject and chronological indexes.  It is available free on Juridat website, from 1997 onwards.  IALS has it on microfilm from 1944-1974, 1976-1983 and 1995-2001.

An alternative source is the commercial publication, Pasinomie: collection complète des lois, décrets, ordonnances, arrêtés et réglements généraux. Bruxelles, Bruylant, 1788-.  IALS Library has a complete holding of this series in the Library as from 1788 onwards to date, but it is currently about 10 years behind in publication.

There are other sources for session laws, but none are held in the Institute's Library:-

Bulletin legislatif belge (Bruxelles, Maison F. Larcier, 1931-)

Published weekly. Contains legislation of general interest promulgated during the preceding week.

Bulletin usuel des lois et arrêtés (Bruxelles, Bruylant, 1539-)

Published bi-monthly. Contains legislation since 1539 in chronological order. However only the more important texts are published in full.

Omnilegie (Bruges, La Charte, 1952-)

Published monthly. A complete collection of key laws and regulations. Of special interest because of parallel texts in French and Dutch allowing comparison of legal terminology in both languages.

Recueil des lois, décrets et arrêtés / Verzameling der wetten, decreten, besluiten (Bruxelles, La Direction, Moniteur Belge, 1831-)

French and Dutch parallel texts. A selective compilation of the more important legislation appearing in the Moniteur belge. Available in the British Library Official Publications Library.

There is no general index published to legislation in force, however, one can subscribe separately to the indexes of the Moniteur belge:

Table chronologiques et alphabetiques du Moniteur belge (Bruxelles, Larcier, 1831-)

This is published monthly and cumulates through the current year of publication, so subscribers also receive an annual cumulated index.

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Treaties

All treaties that Belgium has signed since 1987 are available on the Foreign Affairs Department's Treaties Database.

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Law reports

There are no official series of law reports in Belgium and the legal profession relies on unofficial sources for court decisions. Pasicrisie belge (Bruxelles, Bruylant, 1791-) is a commercial series which publishes decisions of the Supreme Court and a selection of Appeal and lower tribunal cases. In French only. This French-language series is in the Institute Library from 1814 onwards.

Reports on administrative law are published in the collection Recueil des arrêts du Conseil d'Etat (Heule, Editions administratives U.G.A., 1948-). This series is also in the Institute Library from 1948-1982, and from 1989 onwards.

Court decisions are reported and annotated in commercially published legal periodicals as well, e.g.:

Journal des Tribunaux, 1881-

Rechtskundig Weekblad, 1931-

Revue Critique de Jurisprudence Belge, 1947-

Revue Pratique des Sociétés Civiles et Commerciales, 1889-

Tijdschrift voor Privaatrecht, 1964-

All of these titles are in the Library.

A key source of freely available case law on the web is Juridat which includes a case law database with cases from the Supreme Court (Cour de Cassation) from 1990 onwards.

The websites of several individual courts also contain some case law for that specific court. The website of the Constitutional Court (Cour Constitutionnelle de Belgique) formerly known as the Cour d'Arbitrage, contains full-text case law of the court in Dutch, French and German from 1985 onwards. The Supreme Administrative Court of Belgium (Conseil d'Etat) website contains the full-text of decisions of the court from 1994 onwards.

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Digest of cases

An important annual digest-index to case law and doctrinal writing available at IALS is:

Recueil permanent des revues juridiques / Permanent overzicht van juridische tijdschriften, 2008- (which continues the Recueil annuel de jurisprudence belge (Bruxelles, Larcier, 1950-2007))

This is known for short as the RPRJ or POJT, formerly the RAJB. IALS holds it from 1949 onwards, but lacks volumes for the years 1954, 1960, and 1963-1970 inclusive, but these years are mostly covered by our holding of Répertoire décennal, mentioned next. The RPRJ is available electronically on the Stradalex database (to which IALS does not subscribe).

Répertoire décennal de la jurisprudence belge (Bruxelles, Bruylant, 1880-1980)

This is an important collection of digests of decisions and doctrinal writings in all areas of the law arranged by subject, and including annotations originally published in Pasicrisie belge. The most recent decennial digest is that covering 1966-1975 in eight volumes, published from 1979-1984. The Institute Library has 1956-1965 (8v.) and 1966-1975 (8v.).This series is no longer published.

An encyclopaedic work on Belgian law is:

Les Novelles: Corpus Juris Belgici (Bruxelles Larcier, 1931-)

The IALS holdings of this survey of Belgian law are no longer current and the volumes are kept in the reserve collection. Les Novelles follows the order of the articles in the codes, developing the text as a systematic treatise on each branch of the law. It is published in approximately fifty volumes and maintains a high standard of precise and scholarly information. The Library has many volumes of this series published up to 1985.

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Books

The Library's intention is to collect major treatises and other legal works by scholars on all the main areas of Belgian law.  Among recent titles in French and Dutch are:

Safia Bouabdallah, La Réception du Modèle Français en Droit Civil Belge : Exemple d'un Transfert de Droit (Bruylant 2014)

Herman Braeckmans, De Modernisering Van Het Vennootschapsrecht : Op Initiatief Van Het Belgisch Centrum Van Het (Larcier 2014)

Marcel Fontaine, Droit Des Assurances (Larcier 2016)

Yves Lejeune, Droit Constitutionnel Belge : Fondements et Institutions  (Larcier 2014)

Yves-Henri Leleu, Droit Des Personnes et des Familles (Larcier 2016)

Jean-Francois Romain, Droit Des Obligations : Notions et Mécanismes en Matière de Responsabilité (Bruylant 2014)

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English language works on Belgian law

The Library has several recent works including the following:

Niuscha Bassiri, Arbitration in Belgium: A Practitioner's Guide (Kluwer Law International 2016)

Roger Blanpain, Labour Law in Belgium (Wolters Kluwer Law and Business 2012)

Patrick Humblet, Introduction to Belgian Labour Law. (Intersentia 2016)

Marc Kruithof, Introduction to Belgian Law (Wolters Kluwer 2017)

Patricia Popelier, The Constitution of Belgium: A Contextual Analysis (Hart 2015)

Julien Stuyck, Commercial and Economic Law in Belgium (Kluwer Law International 2015)

Bertold Theeuwes, Diplomatic Law in Belgium (Maklu 2014)

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Journals

Belgian law journals

The IALS Library has good coverage of the well-established Belgian law journals. The dates in brackets correspond to the library holdings:

Annales de Droit de Louvain, Revue Trimestrielle de Droit Belge (1965-)

Annales de la Faculté de Droit de Liège (1959-1982)

Journal des Tribunaux (1960-)

Rechtskundig Weekblad (1931-1990)

Revue Critique de Jurisprudence Belge (1947-)

Revue de Droit Militaire et de Droit de la Guerre (1962-1997)

Revue de Droit Pénal et de Criminologie (1960-)

Revue de la Faculté de droit de l'Université de Liège (1991-)

Tijdschrift voor Privaatrecht (1964-)

The Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (available via Hein Online) indexes articles from a wide of Belgian law journals, including those listed above.

Journal abbreviations

A list of Belgian legal journal abbreviations is maintained on KU Leuven's website.

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Research guides & bibliographies

Useful starting points to sources of Belgian legal information include:

Verbeke C F, 'Belgium' in Winterton J and Moys E. Information sources in law (eds) (2nd edn, Bowker Saur, 1997)

Malliet C, Research guide to Belgian law, published on the Globalex website, April 2017

The Belgium section of WorldLII allows the browsing and searching of selected sites containing Belgian primary legal materials.

A bibliography on Belgian law is available on the KU Leuwen website. This is mainly in Dutch but does include a section on works on Belgian law in English.

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