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'The USB key is the future': Belgian justice system embraces digital age

22:03 03/08/2023

The Belgian justice system has begun efforts to digitise massive amounts of paper documents in its archives with the goal of allowing such digital documents to be legally admissible in the future.

Today, the basements of Belgian courts and tribunals house more than 100km of archives – a large quantity of paper which is managed on a daily basis by court clerks and threatened by damp cellars.

“USB is the future, of course,” said justice minister Vincent Van Quickenborne. “There will always be a small proportion in paper form for cultural reasons, in the state archives, but only a very small minority.”

Alain Decloedt, chief clerk at the Bruges court, said: "When we need something, we have to come and get it here, but if we don't need it, these archives don't move for 20 or 30 years."

The digitisation process has already begun, at a cost of more than €100 million. In the coming months, the criminal investigation code will be amended to guarantee the authenticity of digital documents.

“It will be a step-by-step process,” Van Quickenborne said.

“We are not going to digitise existing archives, as they will disappear with the passage of time, but for files after 1 January 2024, they will have to be archived digitally.”

Every five years, a new batch of documents that have reached the end of their retention period is destroyed. With digitisation in effect, in about 30 years' time, the basements of courts and tribunals will no longer store any paper archives.

Written by Helen Lyons