The European Union's founding member Belgium (The Kingdom of Belgium) is located in Western Europe and hosts important international organizations such as the EU Headquarters and NATO. Representing a distinct cultural border separating Latin European countries and Germanic countries, Belgium is home to French-speaking Belgians, Dutch-speaking Flemish Belgians, and to a German-Speaking community as well. The language diversity and long history of political conflicts over the past five centuries has combined to give Belgium a complex government composed of federal parliamentary democratic and constitutional monarchy principles.
Consisting of the Chamber of Representatives and the Senate, Belgium's federal parliament contains appointed representatives, elected politicians and the king's children, who are considered "Senators by Right". Belgium is also one of the few countries in the world that has compulsory voting, which naturally provides it with exceptionally high voter turnout rates.
Belgium's head of state is the King, although his power is limited to appointing the Prime Minister (with a vote of confidence from the Chamber of Representatives) along with several other prerogatives. Originating from tenets of the Napoleonic Code, Belgium's judicial system is supported by civil law, with the Court of Cassation and the Court of Appeals representing the country's highest courts.
Belgium's Legal System
Four levels of ordinary courts exist in Belgium: the "Tribunal de Première Instance" (lower level juvenile criminal and civil court), "Tribunal des Juges de Paix" and "Tribunal de Police"--civil and criminal court, respectively. Recently, the government added a tax court or chamber to the Tribunal de Première Instance that decides litigations concerning business and personal tax issues. Only one Belgian court has a jury--the Cour d'Assises--which hears serious offenses such as manslaughter, kidnapping and murder. Punishment for serious offenses involve appropriate prison sentences as determined by a jury, since the death penalty has been abolished since 1996.
Although Belgian law closely follows France's law system, languages used during court proceedings, whether it is French or Dutch, depends on where the court is located in Belgium. However, both languages are used in Brussels courts.
Study Law in Belgium
Earning a Law Degree in Belgium
Earning a law degree in Belgium does not require students pass a pre-entrance examination as is required for a few other degrees. Although the blending of Dutch, French and some German higher education institutions in Belgium may be confusing, they have all adopted regulations provided by the Bologna process, which entails the same kind of Bachelor's, Master's and Doctorate degree system followed by other European countries. Admission to the Belgian Bar is permitted after five years of studying law, or upon earning a Master of Law (LLM).
The government of Belgium regulates higher education tuition fees for all public universities or colleges. These fees are based on the ability of the student (or the student's family) to pay an amount commiserate with income. For example, low-income (Bursary) students receive full financial aid packages and usually pay a tuition rate of 100 euros ($135 USD). Students considered "non-bursary" pay full tuition fees 600 euros ($800 USD). Once again, these rates may vary from one law school to the other.
Recently, the unemployment rate in Belgium dropped considerably as the recession in the U.S. and Europe has finally begun to improve, an encouraging sign that has also prompted the Bank of England to consider increasing interest rates. Consequently, employment opportunities for law students wanting to practice law in Belgium should remain consistent with the rapidly improving economy and job market.