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Coronavirus – Impact on civil court proceedings – Belgium

  • Belgium
  • Coronavirus - Contractual issues
  • Coronavirus - Country overview

24-04-2020

The COVID-19 Decree1 , which was updated by the Royal Decree of 28 April 20202, has a strong impact on pending and future civil court proceedings, as deadlines for the filing of submissions are automatically postponed, deadlines for the filing of opposition or appeal are automatically extended, introductory hearings can be postponed, oral pleadings are cancelled and cases are taken into consideration on the basis of written submissions and exhibits.

In the following Q&A, we will answer your most pressing questions regarding the impact the COVID-19 Decree has on your pending and/or future civil court proceedings.

Does the COVID-19 Decree have an impact on introductory hearings in civil court proceedings?

Introductory hearings that are scheduled before 17 May 20203 are automatically suspended for an indefinite period of time (referral to the general docket). It will be up to the courts to schedule a new introductory hearing date as soon as possible.

The summary proceedings are an exception to this rule: these introductory hearings will not be postponed, provided the procedural requirements (e.g. urgency) are met.

Does the COVID-19 Decree have an impact on hearing dates for pleadings in civil court proceedings?

All civil court proceedings in which a hearing for pleadings is scheduled between 11 April 2020 and 17 June 20204 will automatically be taken into consideration by the court without any oral pleadings. The court will rule on the basis of the written submissions and exhibits that were filed by the parties involved.5

The COVID-19 Decree does contain two ways to object to the written procedure for those parties wishing to orally plead their case:

  • if both parties object to the written procedure, the court will be forced to postpone the hearing to a later date, at which date the case will be orally pleaded, or indefinitely (referral to the docket, meaning it will be up to the parties involved to activate the case at a later time)
  • if some (but not all) of the parties involved in the proceedings object to the written procedure, those parties have to inform the court in writing of their objection to the written procedure and their reasons, at the latest one week before the date of the scheduled hearing. In this scenario, the court will decide on how to proceed on the basis of the comments and exhibits that were submitted by the parties. The court can decide (i) to maintain the oral hearing (video conference is possible), (ii) to postpone the case to a later date or for an indefinite period of time, or (iii) to rule on the case on the basis of the written submissions and exhibits of all the parties involved. The decision of the court on how to proceed cannot be appealed

Does the COVID-19 Decree have an impact on deadlines for filing written submissions in civil court proceedings?

The COVID-19 Decree contains specific measures regarding the deadlines for filing submissions in civil court proceedings. More specifically, any deadlines for filing submissions between 9 April 2020 and 3 May 2020 will be automatically extended to 3 June 2020. Moreover, the other deadlines will also be impacted by this extension, as they are automatically extended by the same period of time. Note that these deadlines were not extended by the Royal Decree of 28 April 2020.

We will illustrate this by means of an example. Imagine the parties had agreed to the following procedural calendar:

  • defendant: 20 April 2020
  • claimant: 20 May 2020
  • defendant: 20 June 2020

Seeing that the first deadline of 20 April 2020 falls within the time period between 9 April 2020 and 3 May 2020, this deadline will be extended to 3 June 2020. Seeing that the other deadlines are equally extended, the procedural calendar will be automatically updated as follows:

  • defendant: 3 June 2020
  • claimant: 3 July 2020
  • defendant: 3 August 2020

Please note that the procedural calendar does not change if the first deadline would fall after 3 May 2020 but before 3 June 2020 (unless the end date of 3 May 2020 would be extended by the Government). For example, the following procedural calendar would remain unchanged:

  • defendant: 5 May 2020
  • claimant: 5 June 2020
  • defendant: 5 July 2020

Furthermore, the COVID-19 Decree does contain a provision on how to prevent this automatic extension of the deadlines for submissions. More specifically, if a party would argue that the proceedings are urgent and that any delay would put the claim of that party in jeopardy, that party can request the court to prevent the automatic extension of the deadlines for filing submissions.6

That having been said, parties are, of course, at liberty to agree to ignore the automatic extension of the deadlines and to respect the original procedural calendar.

Does the COVID-19 Decree have an impact on the deadlines to file for opposition or appeal?

The COVID-19 Decree also impacts the deadlines to file for opposition or appeal, in the same manner as described under question 2. If the deadline for opposition or appeal would fall between 9 April 2020 and 3 May 2020, the deadline would automatically be extended to 3 June 20207. Again, this automatic extension can be contested as described under question 2.

Is it still possible to initiate new civil court proceedings in the near future?

The bailiffs are still able to serve an opposing party with a writ of summons and thus initiate new proceedings. However, the introductory hearing will have to take place after 17 May 20208. It is important to note that summary proceedings can be introduced before 17 May 2020, provided the necessary procedural requirements (e.g. urgency) are met.

Recommendations for civil court proceedings

This Q&A gives a general overview of the impact of the COVID-19 Decree on civil court proceedings. However, please note that, for measures that were not regulated by the COVID-19 Decree, specific measures were taken by the courts and tribunals, which must also be taken into account. Moreover, the COVID-19 situation as well as the measures taken in that context are rapidly evolving, as is evidenced by the publishing of the Royal Decree of 28 April 2020 which extended certain but not all types of deadlines. Therefore, we recommend contacting us for any questions you may have concerning your specific pending or future litigation.


1 Royal Decree no. 2, enacted on 9 April 2020 in the context of the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic (“Koninklijk Besluit nr. 2 met betrekking tot de verlenging van de verjaringstermijnen en de andere termijnen om in rechte te treden, alsmede de verlenging van de termijnen van de rechtspleging en de schriftelijke behandeling voor de hoven en rechtbanken” / “arrêté royal n°2 concernant la prorogation des délais de prescription et les autres délais pour ester en justice ainsi que la prorogation des délais de procédure et la procédure écrite devant les cours et tribunaux) (the “COVID-19 Decree”).

2 Royal Decree, enacted on 28 April 2020 (“Koninklijk Besluit tot verlenging van sommige maatregelen genomen bij het Koninklijk Besluit nr. 2 van 9 april 2020 met betrekking tot de verlenging van de verjaringstermijnen en de andere termijnen om in rechte te treden, alsmede de verlenging van de termijnen van de rechtspleging en de schriftelijke behandeling voor de hoven en rechtbanken” / “Arrêté Royal prolongeant certaines mesures prises par l'Arrêté royal n° 2 du 9 avril 2020 concernant la prorogation des délais de prescription et les autres délais pour ester en justice ainsi que la prorogation des délais de procédure et la procédure écrite devant les cours et tribunaux

3 This deadline was extended from 3 May 2020 to 17 May 2020 by the Royal Decree of 28 April 2020.

4 This deadline was extended from 3 June 2020 to 17 June 2020 by the Royal Decree of 28 April 2020.

5 This, of course, requires that all the parties involved have submitted their exhibits. If a party has not yet submitted their exhibits prior to the scheduled hearing, that party must do so within eight days of the original hearing date. In case the court has any remaining questions after having studied the written submissions and exhibits, and provided it does so within one month after the original hearing date, the court may ask the parties to orally clarify certain points (e.g. via video conference).

6 The party in question can introduce this request orally at the hearing (video conference possible) or in writing. If the request is done in writing, the other parties are granted eight days to provide the court with their remarks on this request, after which the court will decide (definitively, as no appeal is possible) on whether or not the automatic extension for the deadlines for filing submissions is maintained.

The Royal Decree of 28 April 2020 did not extend the deadlines to file for opposition or appeal.

8 This deadline was extended from 3 May 2020 to 17 May 2020 by the Royal Decree of 28 April 2020.

Contact a civil lawyer in Belgium today