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Archive for July 15th, 2010

Many years ago I went to Brussels to attend a Law Society Conference.  I did things like that in those days.  It was a crashing bore – enlivened only by the comedy of a well known lawyer who was senior partner of a very good law firm and who went on to great things.  I won’t name him – but he will remember the incident.

Part of the ‘amusements’ was an organised tour of The Palais de Justice in Brussels with the head of the Belgian judiciary – and an extraordinary tour guide who worked at the court.

We were duly assembled and treated to a very full exposition on the building.  The tour guide told us …. roughly what is in Wikipedia today – with a few embellishments of his own….

The Law Courts of Brussels or Brussels Palace of Justice is the most important Court building in Belgium and is a notable landmark of Brussels. It was built between 1866 and 1883 in the eclectic style by architect Joseph Poelaert. The total cost of the construction, land and furnishings was somewhere in the region of 45 million Belgian francs. It is the biggest building constructed in the 19th century.[1]

…..The Brussels Palace of Justice is bigger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. The building is currently 160 by 150 meters[1], and has a total built ground surface of 26,000 m². The 104[3] meter high dome weighs 24,000 tons. The building has 8 courtyards with a surface of 6000 m², 27 large court rooms and 245 smaller court rooms and other rooms. Situated on a hill, there is a level difference of 20 meters between the upper and lower town, which results in multiple entrances to the building at different levels.

He told us all of the above and then he said… “If you laid together every brick in the building, one on top of the other, it would be higher than Mt Everest”.  I gasped.  The senior partner of the aforementioned law firm gasped. Then the tour guide told us…“If every brick in the building was laid end to end… it would go around the world.” More gasping – but, being British… we gasped in a British way.  The head of the Belgian judiciary beamed at us as if we were simpletons from a foreign land who could not speak French.   He may have been right.

We were then shown into the main hall.  The tour guide told us that during World War II the Germans burnt all the Belgian laws and law reports in the hall and pointed to scorch marks on the walls.  It was at this point I corpsed when the senior partner of aforementioned said, quite loudly “Well.  Hitler did a lot of bad things, but at least he did something useful in his time as Fuhrer.”

It was a long time ago – but I remember it with a degree of sardonic pleasure.  It was not meant in any other way than a cry for help so we could be free of the turbulent and remarkably tedious tour guide.  It is probably just as well that I have no plans to head a delegation to Belgium on behalf of anyone, let alone the lawyers of England & Wales.

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