Information about the Court of Assizes

The actors of the trial

1.    The Court of Assizes

- The court

The court is composed of a president and two assessor judges, all being professional magistrates.

The president directs the proceedings and ensures that the hearing runs smoothly. The president decides when to suspend the hearing and deals with any incidents. The president wears a red toga. 

The judge assessors assist the president and participate in the debates. 

For this trial, substitutes are provided for the president and the assessor judges.

- The jury

The jury is composed of twelve Belgian citizens designated by drawing lots.

Twenty-four substitute jurors are foreseen for this trial. These substitutes will take the place of the actual jurors if these are unable to sit.

The effective jurors and their substitutes must take an oath.

This oath implies the following duties:

  • to judge impartially,
  • to judge scrupulously,
  • not to communicate one’s opinion outside the group, either in public or in private,
  • base his/her decision only on the evidence and defence presented during the open debates, taking into account the interests of the accused, the civil parties and the society.

- The Registry

The Court of Assizes is assisted by several clerks of the court of first instance. The clerks prepare the files, draw up the minutes of the hearing, ensure that all procedural formalities are carried out in accordance with the law and authenticate the acts of procedure


2.    The parties to the trial

- The Public Prosecutor's Office

The public prosecutor’s office represents the interests of the society and supports the prosecution. The prosecutor presents the charges against the accused at the hearing and requires the law to be applied.

Throughout the trial, the prosecutor can ask questions to the witnesses, the experts and the defendants.

For the trial of the Brussels attacks, the public prosecutor is represented by magistrates from the federal public prosecutor's office.

- The accused 

In the Court of Assizes, the accused appears in person and must be assisted by one or more lawyers. 

The accused is presumed innocent until proven guilty according to the law.

- The civil party

A victim can file a civil suit with the Court of Assizes until the end of the debates. 

The civil party may be required to testify about the facts and their consequences. A civil party may appear in person and/or be represented by one or more lawyers.

In principle, if a civil party is called to testify, he/she may not be present at the debates taking place before hers/his testimony. The court may grant an exception to this principle if all parties agree.


Conduct of the trial

The Court of Assize sits in three hearing sessions:

1.      The preliminary hearing

2.     The jury composition hearing

3.     The hearing on the merits 


1.    The preliminary hearing

During the preliminary hearing, the president of the court of assizes draws up a list of witnesses to be heard during the trial. He/she also determines the order in which they will be heard.

For the Brussels attacks trial, the preliminary hearing is scheduled on Monday 12 September 2022 at 9am.


2.    The jury composition hearing

The jury composition hearing must take place at least two working days before the start of the trial on the merits.  

At this hearing, the president of the court of assizes draws lots for the twelve members of the jury and the substitutes (from a list of jurors contacted beforehand).

The selected persons can be :

- exempted at their request and with the agreement of the president;

- challenged and removed by the prosecution or the defence;

- removed by the president so that no more than two thirds of the jury members are of the same gender.

For the Brussels attacks trial, the jury composition hearing is scheduled on Monday 10 October 2022 at 9am.


3.    The hearing on the merits 

For the Brussels attacks trial, the hearing on the merits will start on Thursday 13 October 2022 at 9 a.m. and will continue until the end of the debates.

The procedure before the court of assizes is essentially oral. All the witnesses and experts heard at the hearing are summoned to give their evidence to the court and to answer questions from the judges, jurors or parties.

The hearing begins with the reading of the indictment by the prosecution. The indictment contains a summary of the case.

If there is a statement of defence, it is read out by the accused or his lawyer. This is a summary of the defence case.

The clerk reads out the list of witnesses called to testify during the trial.

The president of the court of assizes proceeds with the interrogation of the accused

The various witnesses and experts are then heard, according to the list drawn up at the preliminary hearing and in the order determined by the president. 

Among others, the following persons will be heard: 

  • Investigators (police officers, investigating judges) on the conduct of the investigation;
  • The witnesses to the events;
  • Character witnesses, who testify about the character of the parties to the trial;
  • Technical experts (e.g. forensic scientists, explosives experts, etc.) on the course of events or scientific pieces of evidence;
  • Personality experts (e.g. psychologists, psychiatrists), especially in relation to the psychology of the accused, his/her capacity for discernment, etc.;
  • Civil parties who are convened to testify or who wish to do so.

After their hearing by the president, questions may be asked to the witnesses and experts by the assessor judges, the public prosecutor, the civil parties and the accused. 

The debates end with the closing arguments of the prosecutor (in this case the federal prosecutor) and the pleadings of the (lawyers of) the civil parties and the accused and any possible replies. The last word is always given to the accused.

At the end of the debates, the president of the court of assizes reads out the questions related to the guilt or not of the accused to which the jury will have to answer.


Deliberation on guilt

The jury deliberates and decides alone on the guilt or acquittal of the accused.

If found guilty, the professional judges write the motivation for the verdict with the jury.

The president pronounces the verdict in open court.


Debate and deliberation on the sanction or internment

In the event of a conviction, a new debate on the sanction (or internment) begins. The public prosecutor, the accused's lawyer and the accused himself speak in turn.

The jury and the court retire again to decide on the sanctions.

The President pronounces the criminal judgment in open court.


Civil claims

Civil parties can claim compensation from the convicted person. The professional judges will then decide on their compensation.