Belgian Confidence in Justice System Drops to Historic Low

Sarhan Basem

Brussels (Brussels Morning) – The fifth Justice Barometer reveals a decline in Belgian confidence in the justice system. Now at 54%. Social polarization and dissatisfaction with fairness are prominent factors, impacting perceptions of judicial independence and fairness of rulings.

The fifth edition of the Justice Barometer exposes that confidence in the justice system is waning again. This was also the case in 2002, in the aftermath of the ‘spaghetti judgment’ in the Dutroux case. By 2007, that belief had completely increased again: 66 per cent of Belgians still had confidence. In 2014, that had dropped to 61 percent. And now, another ten years later, only 54 per cent of Belgians express their confidence.

How Has Public Trust in Belgian Courts Changed?

“A large group within society has the feeling that society is not organized fairly. This is reflected in the erosion of confidence in politics. And therefore also in declining confidence in the justice system,” says Maarten Hermans, a sociologist at Brispo-Vub and at think tank Minerva, who contributed to the justice barometer. “But the merit of this research is that it exposes the polarization between social classes, with an upper class that has and a lower class that has less and less confidence in the justice system. That is precisely the explanation for sudden outbursts of dissatisfaction such as those after the Reuzegom trial.”

The numbers are clear. 67 per cent still believe that people will get a fair trial in Belgium. But that result was 9 per cent higher 10 years ago. General satisfaction with the justice system has fallen from 57 per cent to 48 per cent in the same period. And the group that believes that justice is deteriorating has increased from 24 to 36 per cent.

Do Belgians Believe in Equal Treatment by Judges?

The barometer shows a fear of class justice because barely 40 per cent of respondents believe that judges treat all citizens equally. And only just half think that judges pass judgments with complete independence. But the most striking answer comes to the question of whether the decisions of the judiciary are “just”. Less than half – 46 per cent – ​​agree with this. Another dip, because ten years ago that was still 61 per cent

It is clear to Minister of Justice Paul Van Tigchelt that the justice system must explain even more and better what it does and why people are punished. Ria Mortier, Attorney General at the Court of Cassation, agrees. “But of course, it will never be a goal of the justice system to become ‘popular’. Parties being dissatisfied with decisions is part of life. It should not be our ambition to completely close the gap with the citizens, because a certain distance offers a guarantee of objectivity.”

The survey shows that citizens do have confidence in other citizens, also to administer justice. 69 per cent – ​​a slight increase – are in favour of the people’s jury system, which we know from assize cases. That system is under fire within the justice system. Former Minister of Justice Koen Geens even tried to put an end to it. 

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Sarhan Basem is Brussels Morning's Senior Correspondent to the European Parliament. With a Bachelor's degree in English Literature, Sarhan brings a unique blend of linguistic finesse and analytical prowess to his reporting. Specializing in foreign affairs, human rights, civil liberties, and security issues, he delves deep into the intricacies of global politics to provide insightful commentary and in-depth coverage. Beyond the world of journalism, Sarhan is an avid traveler, exploring new cultures and cuisines, and enjoys unwinding with a good book or indulging in outdoor adventures whenever possible.