Friday’s ruling in the case brought by the former king Albert II in his defence of a paternity claim by artist Delphine Boël may have been of landmark importance, but it does not bring the case to an end.
To recap: Albert had appealed to the Cassation Court against a ruling by the Court of Appeal forcing him to give a DNA sample to determine whether he is the biological father of Delphine. Under another ruling, on pain of a daily fine of €5,000, he had given the sample in May, it has been analysed, but both sample and report lie at the moment under lock and key.
Yesterday’s ruling throws the case back to the Court of Appeal, which is now likely to order the DNA report to be opened. At present, only one person in the country knows what it says; neither of the two parties in the case nor their lawyers. Only the lab expert who examined the samples of both Albert and Delphine knows what the conclusion is.
Back in front of the Court of Appeal, Albert’s lawyers – the former sovereign himself has never shown his face in front of any of the forums in which the case has been litigated – are now expected to present arguments to prevent the revelation of the DNA results. The original objection was that Delphine could not disown her legal father, Jacques Boël, who had from the outset recognised her de jure as his child, but who had now been shown by DNA evidence not to be. The lawyers for Albert argued the law set a time limit for challenging his legal paternity, which Delphine had long passed. Constitutional Court struck down that objection, and the Cassation Court has upheld their ruling.
However the door is still not open for Delphine to go to the bailiffs and demand to see the DNA report. Only the Court of Appeal can decide on that, and Albert’s lawyers will contest that any way they can.
According to constitutional specialist Frederik Swennen of the university of Antwerp, speaking to De Standaard, Albert has very little left with which to defend himself. His only remaining argument now would seem to be that the court ought not to put its blind trust in a biological examination. A last-ditch effort which could be expected, in this day and age, to have little chance of success.
And if at the end of a long quest by Delphine to have herself legally recognised as the child of the former king she is successful, what will be the consequences? Prof. Swennen: “Then she can take on the family name, and she would officially become a princess. Some years ago a Royal Order was issued by which only the offspring of the king may call themselves prince and princess. That was done to bring an end to the use of the title from generation to generation,” he explained.
At present, Astrid and Laurent have the title, but their children do not. The children of their brother Philippe, on the other hand, do have the title of prince and princess, and in the case of daughter Elisabeth, Crown Princess, because they are the children of the king. When in turn they grow up, only the children of Elisabeth will be entitled, when she eventually takes the throne.
Delphine, having been retroactively named as a child of the man who once was king, will be entitled to call herself Princess, Prof Swennen said. However she has never, in a case that has now gone on since 2013, shown any inclination to do so.
What is more, he said, she would be entitled to a share of Albert’s legacy. Whereas in Belgian law, half of the property of a deceased person goes to the children unless specified otherwise, Albert has already made legal arrangements for the majority of his estate to go to former Queen Paola on his demise. And when eventually she also dies, her estate will pass to her own children – Philippe, Astrid and Laurent, but not Delphine.
“There is therefore no point in her doing this for the money,” Prof Swennen concludes.
The Brussels Times