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map courtesy CIA World Factbook; click for enlargement Constitution, Government & Legislation

Belgium is an hereditary constitutional monarchy. The present King, Albert II, succeeded his brother, King Baudouin, in 1993. As titular head of state, the King plays a ceremonial and symbolic role in the nation. A main political function is to designate a political leader to attempt to form a new cabinet after an election or the resignation of a cabinet. In conditions where there is a "constructive vote of no-confidence," the government has to resign and the Lower House of Parliament proposes a new Prime Minister to the King. The King also is seen as playing a symbolic unifying role, representing a common national Belgian identity.

The Belgian Parliament consists of a Senate and a House of Representatives (the Chamber). The House has 150 directly-elected members. The Senate has 71 members. The executive branch of the government consists of ministers and secretaries of state (junior ministers) drawn from the political parties which form the government coalition. Formally, the ministers are appointed by the King. The number of ministers is limited to 15, and they have no seat in Parliament. The Cabinet is chaired by the Prime Minister. Ministers head executive departments of the government.

Source: U.S. Department of State

Courts & Judgments

The Belgian Constitution provides for an independent judiciary. The judicial system is organized according to specialization and territorial jurisdiction, with 5 territorial levels: Canton (225), district (27), provinces and Brussels (11), courts of appeal (5), and the Cour de Cassation, which is the highest appeals court.

Human Rights

The Belgian Government generally respected the human rights of its citizens in 2001, and the law and the judiciary provide effective means of dealing with individual instances of abuse. Trafficking in women and children and violence against women remained problems, and the Government took steps to combat them.

Legal Profession

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Estelle Derclaye, LL.M.; former research assistant, Li鑒e University; Doctoral associate, Centre for Commercial Law Studies, Queen Mary Intellectual Property Institute, University of London.