A claim against a public entity must be commenced within five years from 1 January of the year in which the claim arises (Article 100 §1, 1° of the Royal Decree of 17 July 1991 on the State accounts, original version). Where a claim for damages in tort arises from the alleged fault of a public entity, the limitation period will run from the date on which the damage is suffered. The period of limitation will stop running when a writ of summons is issued with the ordinary courts.
The rules are different where the damages flow from an administrative decision of a public authority. In such cases, the claimant will usually request an annulment (judicial review) of the decision from the Administrative High Court. As the Administrative Court has no competence to order the payment of damages, the claimant will have to pursue a claim for damages with the ordinary courts in order to recover compensation. Generally an ordinary court will await the outcome of the Administrative High Court before proceeding with such a claim. As such, it is often the case that a claimant will decide not to pursue its claim for damages until the Administrative High Court has ruled on the legality of the administrative decision.
The new law
Litigation with the Belgian Administrative High Court can often take five years or more, with the consequence being that the limitation period for bringing a damages claim in the ordinary court can easily expire. In response to this, the new law passed on 25 July 2008 (Belgian State Gazette of 22 August 2008) provides that a request for judicial review will stop the five year limitation period from running, allowing the claimant to obtain compensation for damages arising from an annulled administrative decision, even if the proceedings for annulment took more than five years.