Flemish courts facing "dramatic" staff shortage

Almost every court in Flanders is currently battling a staff shortage. The problem applies to both first instance courts and courts of appeal. At least 113 extra clerks are needed and 50 judges. The news comes as even more cuts are being announced.

The situation is worst is East Flanders. Antoon Boyen of the Court of Appeal in Ghent, is talking about "a dramatic situation" in the areas of Ghent, Oudenaarde and Dendermonde.  The province of East Flanders is normally entitled to 16 judges more than it actually has.

Some employees have fallen ill for a long time, with the work going to their colleagues. Other staff that is leaving, is only being replaced after several months' time. The consequence is that more work has to be done by fewer people, which will only add to the present backlog, the VRT's justice expert Philip Heymans explains. In East Flanders, 12 local chambers have been temporarily closed due to a shortage of staff.

Fears are also emerging that some work can simply no longer be done, or not done properly. "You can't expect 75 per cent of the workforce to do the things you expect to with 100 per cent",  Boyen says.

The situation is not expected to improve, on the contrary. Flemish courts will have to cut costs with an extra 10 per cent in the coming years.

Justice Minister Koen Geens has promised to do something about the problem. He says there is no miracle solution, but will ask the government for more cash for his department in order to slow down the rhythm of job cuts. He also thinks reforms should be introduced to make the workload less heavy. Geens gives the example of the Court of Assizes (that deals with murder cases). Procedures there should be simplified to have judges treat more cases.