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Opposition grows to Brussels' English-language court plan
The top lawyer at Belgium's highest appeals court has warned that plans to set up an English-speaking commercial court in Brussels risk creating a two-tier justice system.
The comments from André Henkes, first advocate-general at the Court of Cassation, come after Belgium's supreme justice watchdog also expressed concerns about the proposed Brussels International Business Court (BIBC).
Charles Michel's government approved the court's creation last year, with the aim of positioning the Belgian capital as the go-to place for settling trade disputes. All hearings and judgments would be in English and the court would be self-financing, receiving no public funds.
In a speech on Monday, Henkes said: "On the one hand, citizens - mostly foreigners - will choose the BIBC and benefit from quick decisions. On the other hand, others will have to settle for hearings in dilapidated court buildings, without adequate human resources to render justice in a reasonable timeframe."
Henkes said it could also be difficult to find Belgian judges and advisors who have sufficient knowledge of international trade law and speak good enough English.
"Is such a court necessary?" he asked, adding that the Belgian justice system was already equipped to meet the needs of "numerous international and European institutions and companies ... [allowing] Brussels to maintain its role as a hub of political life and business at an international level."
The number of international trade disputes is expected to grow in light of Brexit. Contracts are often drawn up in English and many companies wanting to settle disputes in English currently do so in London.
Earlier this year, Belgium's High Council of Justice, which has independent oversight over the Belgian judiciary, said the bill creating the new English-language court did not guarantee it enough independence and was not transparent enough about the court's funding.
It questioned the impartiality and independence of judges - fearing that its structure could make "interference" possible in the appointment of the court's members.