Monolingual magistrate to head bilingual Court of Appeal

There is disquiet among Dutch-speaking judges, barristers and magistrates at the Brussels Courthouse after it was announced that that a mono-lingual Francophone is to become the First President of the bilingual Court of Appeal. The Court of Appeal is one of five courts of appeal in Belgium. The other four are in Ghent, Antwerp, Mons and Liège. The Court of Appeal in Brussels serves the former province of Brabant that comprises the Dutch-speaking legal jurisdiction of Halle-Vilvoorde and Leuven, the Francophone legal jurisdiction of Nivelles and the bi-lingual Brussel-Capital area. Cases at the court are heard in both Dutch and French. There is concern that Laurence Massart, who will take on her new post from 2 April hardly has any knowledge of Dutch, quite a disadvantage given the bilingual nature of the job.

The Head of the Dutch-language Brussels Order of Barristers Peter Callens told the Brussels regional news platform Bruzz that Ms Massart “is an excellent magistrate”  

However, there are doubts as to whether she is suitable to head a bilingual court. No fewer than six sources have confirmed in an article in the daily ‘De Standaard’ that Ms Massart is a good as mono-lingual French-speaking and that this raises issues about her suitability for the post of First President of the court.   

However, the 1935 language laws do not stipulate that the First President of the bilingual Brussel Brussels Court of Appeal should themselves be bilingual. Dutch-language Brussels Order of Barristers and the Flemish Bar Council have written to the Justice Minister Koen Geens (Flemish Christian democrat) to express their concerns.  

According to the daily ‘De Standaard’ Ms Massart is now taking Dutch lessons. She also plans to enlist the service of a colleague to help her with case that are conducted in Dutch.