The justice system is facing a wave of cases arising from the regulations introduced to combat the spread of the coronavirus, and fears some courts may be swamped for months to come.
The nationwide lockdown introduced measures like a ban on non-essential travel and gatherings, and a need to observe social distancing. Anyone breaking the rules was liable to a fine.
In the months since then, some 110,000 people have received at least one fine notice, which can either be paid on the spot or later.
People who receive a document to pay the fine due can decline, and it is then up to the prosecutor’s office to decide whether to pursue the case. If they do, they have to appear in a police court before a magistrate.
According to the college of prosecutors-general, 31,213 offers had been sent out by 31 May inviting offenders to pay a fine. Of those, 7,961 have already paid.
“It is possible that the deadline for paying [in some cases] has not yet expired,” said Kristine De Beule, spokesperson for the prosecutor-general in Ghent, speaking to De Morgen. “But on the basis of current trends we are expecting in the coming months that no fewer than 30,000 cases will be brought to court.”
According to the prosecutors-general, that would create a mountain of work for police courts that would require a 15% increase in judgements over the course of a year to be worked out, with additional sittings unavoidable.
“The risk of running out of time is not an immediate problem, as the statute of limitations is set at five years,” De Beule said. “All the same, that doesn’t change the fact that cases have to be tried within a reasonable delay.”