1. Constitutional review of regulations with force of law
The procedure before the Constitutional Court is essentially written and adversarial. The rules of procedure concerning actions for annulment and preliminary questions are largely the same, except of course as regards the way in which cases are referred and the effects of the Court’s judgments. The procedure before the Court is regulated by the special Act of 6 January 1989 and by the guidelines of the Court on procedure. These texts can be found on the website of the Court under the heading “Basic Texts”.
Cases may be brought before the Court in Dutch, French or German, as the case may be, but the hearing and examination takes place in Dutch or in French in accordance with the rules set forth in the special Act of 6 January 1989. After being entered on the docket, each case is assigned to a particular bench according to a system determined by law. The first judges of each linguistic group who have been appointed to the case will act as rapporteurs. In order to avoid an overload of work, there is a summary procedure to deal with certain cases, for example for cases that are inadmissible or are relatively straightforward.
Except where the summary procedure is applied, it is announced in the Official Journal that a case has been brought before the Court. Besides the applicants (in actions for annulment) and the parties before the referring court (in referrals for preliminary questions), interested third parties may intervene by written submissions. The various legislative assemblies and governments may intervene in all cases. After the time has expired that is necessary for exchanging written submissions and for the investigations by the judges-rapporteurs and their legal secretaries, the Court considers whether the case is ready for hearing and whether a hearing should take place. In that case, the date of the hearing will be set and questions, if any, are formulated in the order deciding that the case is ready for hearing. All parties that lodged a written submission are notified thereof and receive a written report of the judges-rapporteurs drawing attention to the questions that may be addressed to them at the hearing. The hearing is public. If no hearing has been set, each party may ask to be heard. Failing this, the case is taken into deliberation. If a hearing is held, the first judge-rapporteur reports on the case. The second judge-rapporteur, from the other linguistic group, may issue a supplementary report. All parties that lodged written submissions may also make oral arguments (in Dutch, French or German, with simultaneous interpretation), either in person or represented by a lawyer.
When the case is taken into deliberation, the Court rules by majority vote. In the event of a tie (if the bench is in plenary session), the president has the casting vote. The deliberations of the Court are secret. No provision has been made for concurring or dissenting opinions. The Court is obliged to deliver a judgment within twelve months following the submission of the case.
2. Other proceedings
The primarily written procedure is, mutatis mutandis, modelled on the procedure for the constitutional review of legislative acts. With respect to the organization of regional referendums, the special Act does not provide for a summary procedure or for a hearing, and restricts the exchange of written submissions to the Council of Ministers, the community and regional governments, the presidents of the legislative assemblies, and the initiator(s) of the referendum. With respect to disputes over certain election expenses, the special Act provides for the referral to the Court, by the president of the House of Representatives, of the case file that led to the challenged decision, as well as for the referral to the Court, by the House Committee, of a written submission to which the petitioner can reply. The Council of Ministers may also file a written submission if the Court, as part of those proceedings, is called upon to rule on the constitutionality of legislative acts.