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Brussels fiscal courts no longer exclusively competent to handle Belgian (non-criminal) customs case

Bijgewerkt op: 29 apr 2020

The Ministerial Decree of 13 September 2019 clarifies the tasks of the 'Centralized Office of Customs and Excise' and its Regional sub-offices.

The decree might affect the territorial jurisdiction of the courts by making a clear distinction between the electronic processing of the customs declaration data by the IT systems and their acceptance by the General Administration of Customs and Excise services. The (currently applicable) Decree of 26 March 2007 does not currently make this distinction, implicating that only the courts of the judicial district of Brussels-Capital have jurisdiction.

Article 632 of the Belgian Judicial Code states that the tax claim must be brought before the competent court of the tax office where the tax has been or is to be collected. The "Centralized Office of Customs and Excise" was established per Decree of 19 July 2006 is since then located in Brussels, and is a.o. responsible for the collection, repayment or remission of sums due to the customs and excise administration. As a result, case law (such as the Antwerp fiscal courts) ruled that the court of Brussels is the only territoriality competent court in (non-criminal) Belgian customs matters.

From now on, the new ministerial decree stipulates that the regional sub-offices (such as Antwerp and Ghent) are also responsible for "the processing of all paper-based declarations submitted there, as well as all electronic declarations for which they are the office of destination or the office of dispatch/export".

However, the "Centralized Office of Customs and Excise" remains responsible for "electronic processing of data relating to the collection, collection, reimbursement, remission of sums due or sums which the General Administration of Customs and Excise is responsible for collecting, recovering, repaying or remitting on behalf of third parties".

Some say that this new Decree gives back competence to local courts in merely fiscal customs cases, which is open to discussion, given the retained responsibilities of the Centralized Office. Whether or not the Ministerial Decree of 13 September 2019 will actually affect the existing case law as regards territorial competence of fiscal courts for (non-criminal) customs cases, still has to be proven.

You can read the entire Decree here.

If you want more information on the Ministerial Decree of 13 September 2019 and/or the territorial competence of Belgian courts in customs matters, please contact info@kegels-co.be