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Problems over language fluency of new appeal court judge

© Belga
© Belga

Language tensions have come to the surface with the nomination of Laurence Massart, who speaks French but very little Dutch, as chief magistrate of the Brussels Court of Appeal. According to the judge she will replace, justice minister Koen Geens should have ensured the advertisement for the post was published in Dutch

The issue was brought to light by De Standaard newspaper, after Massart’s nomination to head one of the most important courts in the country appeared in the government’s Official Journal.

No-one doubts Massart’s juridical qualities, the paper admits. She is currently leading the trial of Mehdi Nemmouche, accused of four murders at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in 2014. “She is an outstanding judge,” said the head of the Dutch-speaking bar of Brussels.

But the paper reports six independent sources who claim Massart (photo) is almost exclusively French-speaking, which could hamper her ability to carry out her new function. The Brussels court of appeal handles cases from tribunals of first instance in Brussels, Nivelles and Leuven, many of which are cases that have been conducted to that point in Dutch. She will not only be in charge of those cases, but also the swearing in of new magistrates and evaluation reports for others – all tasks which will have to be delegated.

However there is nothing in the law that requires Massart’s new post to be filled by a bilingual judge, unlike the judges of the lower courts in Brussels. Flemish lawyers have now written to Geens to express their misgivings.

“Can you really speak of good management when someone is appointed who cannot speak the language of half of the people seeking justice?” commented Hugo Lamon, spokesperson for the Order of Flemish Bars.

Later it emerged that the advertisement for the job was published in French only. According to Bruzz, the current chief judge, Luc Maes, wrote to Geens the moment the ad appeared, pointing out that it was understood within the justice palace that his successor would be a Dutch-speaker. At the very least, Maes told the minister, an advertisement should also appear in Dutch. But Geens, himself a Flemish lawyer and a minister for the Flemish Christian democrat CD&V, declined to respond.

Alan Hope
The Brussels Times