Judicial Officers are ministerial officers: Guarantee of professionalism
Holders of a Master’s degree in Law, the Judicial Officers are appointed by the King at the end of a long selection process crystallizing around two competitions allowing to assess the skills of the trainees and the candidates.
No guarantee of professional skills
Although registration with the Minister of Economic Affairs is compulsory (in accordance with article 4 of the law of December 20, 2002 on the amicable recovery of consumer debts), access to the profession is not subject to any diploma/examination.
Essential profession: Continuation of activity even in times of crisis
The judicial officer was declared necessary for the protection of the vital needs of the Nation and the needs of the Population (Ministerial Decrees of March 18, 2020 and October 28, 2020 on emergency measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19).
Being defined as a necessary profession in the midst of a health crisis demonstrates the importance of the activity of judicial officers and their ability to continue the tasks entrusted to them during a period when most companies are totally or almost shut down.
Qualification as an essential profession also reflects the confidence of the political world in the profession as well as in its ability to self-regulate and adapt.
Profession not recognized as essential to the protection of the vital needs of the Nation and the needs of the Population: no guarantee of continuation of activities in times of crisis
Clearly defined missions of the judicial officer
Their tasks are defined in articles 509 et seq. of the Judicial Code.
Since there is a known legal basis, the control of their activity is easier.
There is a specificity linked to article 521 of the judicial code: this provision establishes a ban for judicial officers to exercise any other profession unrelated to their title.
No legal provision specific to their profession
Debt collection agencies are only subject to legislation relating to amicable collection procedures (law of December 20, 2002, etc.). The outlines of their interventions are more difficult to trace / control.
Annual reporting obligation of third-party accounts: full transparency in account management
Judicial Officers are required to have a third-party account in parallel with their management account in accordance with article 522/1 of the judicial code.
This obligation makes it possible to ensure the traceability of the funds collected and prevents any amalgamation between the funds accruing to creditors/clients and returning as costs and fees to judicial officers.
The management of third-party accounts is provided by the National Chamber of judicial officers with the help of auditors.
No annual reporting obligation of third-party accounts
The royal decree of February 7, 2005 regulating the registration of persons who carry out an amicable debt collection activity and the guarantees which these persons must have, states in its article 3 §3 that the debt collector undertakes to have a third-party account. However, the royal decree does not subject these third-party accounts to any control by any authority whatsoever.
Strong ethical rules such as :
These ethical rules are defined both by the judicial code and by the National Chamber of Judicial Officers.
A disciplinary authority ensures compliance with ethical rules. Penalties for non-compliance with established rules are significant.
Less developed ethical rules
The Belgian Association of Debt collection agencies has developed a code of ethics (applicable to its members only). This code of ethics is however less developed than that of the Judicial Officers. It includes in particular the obligations of discretion and to be “meticulous”. The penalties put in place are weak.
Guarantee of the existence of professional liability insurance up to 5 million euros to cover possible claims in accordance with Article 509 of the Judicial Code
The royal decree of February 7, 2005 imposes in its article 2 to cover professional liability with a cover which cannot be less than 162,500 euros
Continuous mission: the Judicial Officer can intervene at both amicable and judicial stages
Judicial Officers have a monopoly on the filing of cases by way of summons (BtoC and BtoB) or summons in the matter of collection of uncontested commercial debts (BtoB) as well as judicial enforcement (enforcement of court decisions).
There is therefore one single interlocutor: the Judicial Officer who controls the file from A to Z.
No legal competence if the amicable phase fails
Debt collection agencies do not have the possibility of suing and must therefore subcontract with Judicial Officers .
There are therefore several stakeholders, which can lead to risks of delay, slower information and loss of control over the file.
New procedure adapted to the recovery of uncontested commercial debts
The creation of a hybrid procedure allows creditors to obtain an enforcement title at a lower cost (collection of uncontested commercial debts BtoB) when the commercial claim is uncontested. The judicial officer was integrated into this procedure, as he received the confidence of the authorities.
There is a willingness to extend this hybrid process to consumers. This would lead to speed in the procedure, an economy of resources for the registries, a reduction in the burden on the debtor and therefore a better recovery for the creditors.
No authorisation to perform acts at a lower cost for uncontested claims
Better knowledge of the field
The judicial officers being territorially competent over a district, they had to develop a network of colleagues throughout the territory.
A better knowledge of the field leads to a better position in the actions to be carried out and an adaptation on a case-by-case basis according to the personal situation of the debtors, which makes it possible to avoid unnecessary costs.
Total lack of knowledge of the field
Debt collection agencies lack a network or even outsource their activity outside national borders. Indeed, some debt collection agencies have moved all their activities abroad.
The lack of knowledge of the field leads to the lack of finesse in the actions carried out; mass process without case-by-case analysis.
After reading this comparison, it is obviously more appropriate to call upon a judicial officers’ office than upon a collection agency.
The fact that they are part of a professional organisation subject to strict ethical rules and the Judicial Code, is a guarantee of professionalism and the assurance of having a Professional Authority upon which we can, if necessary, call in case of dispute.
The requirement of continuous training is, for its part, the guarantee of working in collaboration with competent people. The same applies to the path of accession to the title (competition in two stages).
Finally, it should be noted that calling upon a judicial officer allows access to execution and collection professionals who have perfect knowledge of the field and who have been able to negotiate with their most efficient colleagues from the other districts in order to set up an effective network. In addition, Judicial Officers have focused on IT development for a number of years and very often have their own constantly evolving IT system, making them fully autonomous and adapted to new processes.