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New prosecutor's office will deal with increase in traffic offences
A new centralised public prosecutor's office, which will be largely responsible for dealing with the increase in traffic violations in Belgium, has been agreed upon by the council of ministers.
The formation of the new National Road Safety Prosecutor's Office, proposed by justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne, is intended to enable the justice department – which has made road safety a priority - to adapt to the rise in the number of road traffic offence cases across the country.
The justice system is currently struggling to cope with the number of new cases and prosecutions which is a direct consequence of the automatic and digitised processing of traffic fines and the increase in the number of speed cameras on Belgian roads.
The automatic and digitised processing of road fines using the Crossborder platform was launched by the justice department in 2017. Since then, the number of fines imposed increased from 4.1 million in 2017 to almost five million in 2020.
All this adds to the administrative workload of the police prosecutor's offices. It is this administrative work that the new centralised public prosecutor's office, consisting of three magistrates and some forty members of staff, will take on.
"There will be three magistrates,” explained Ignacio de la Serna. “A bilingual prosecutor, a French-speaking deputy and a Dutch-speaking deputy."
In the case of a speeding offence, the motorist initially receives an immediate collection notice from the police. If the motorist does not pay, the prosecutor takes over. "The National Road Safety Prosecutor's Office will demand payment for the fine. If you refuse, then a payment order is sent and forwarded to the tax administration," explains Ignacio de la Serna, attorney-general of Mons and member of the College of Prosecutors General.
There is also contested tickets to deal with. "When you have received the notice of immediate collection from the police, you can contest,” added de la Serna. “The objection is passed to the public prosecutor's office where the claim is examined, resulting in more administrative work. There are no hearings. This represents a significant workload for the local prosecutors' offices."
As well as taking on the administrative work of the local public prosecutor's offices, which will allow them to concentrate on other tasks, the National Road Safety Prosecutor's Office will also deal with offences committed on Belgian territory by foreign drivers.
Local prosecutors will remain responsible for dealing with more serious traffic offences, such as drunk driving, and excessive speeding. In such cases, these will result in summonses to court and will be handled by the local prosecutors' offices.
The creation of the National Road Safety Prosecutor's Office comes at a time when more speed cameras are planned for Belgian roads, which will continue to add to the number of fines and prosecutions. The new office will “give us the means to record a better prosecution rate," said Ignacio de la Serna. "There is nothing worse than cameras that are put in place but do not work or the people that are flashed are not sanctioned."