State Archives of Belgium

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Access modalities

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On this web page you will find the main rules in force for access to State Archive records.
These rules are sorted by archive producer (Federal authorities, courts, tribunals, etc.).

General information

Specific Access Conditions

Legal and regulatory references

The rules are phrased in the most succinct and clear manner possible and refer to the legal framework on which they are based (law, decree, etc.). Links are provided where possible in order to enable users to directly consult the legal sources.  In some cases, the users may only consult archive documents if they produce a written authorisation issued by the competent authority. In other cases, users must fill in, date and sign a research declaration.

Access conditions are often complex

The rules governing access to archives are often very complex, especially in Flanders. The right to access records from Flemish archive producers is regulated by the Flemish governance decree which applies to the Flemish public authorities in general (for example archives of a Flemish agency) and to local authorities as well.  In principle, all administrative documents are public, with a number of exceptions however. There are two types of exceptions: absolute exceptions that always apply, and relative exceptions, in which the interest of accessing a document is each time pondered against protecting a given particular interest.  

Exceptions are not everlasting

The exceptions foreseen in the Flemish governance decree cannot be invoked ad vitam aeternam to refuse the right to access records. It is therefore important for users to know for how long they apply, as non-public records are disclosed and can be accessed once the exceptions expire (after 20, 50 or 120 years). Many restrictions indeed expire after 20 years, four exceptions expire after 50 years and the retention period for privacy protection reasons can only be invoked for a maximum of 120 years or for 20 years after the demise of the person to which the information contained in the records pertain. 

Overview of the respective retention periods:

Exceptions no longer applicable if the document is older than 20 years

Confidentiality of deliberations

Art. II.34, no. 3

Penal action and administrative penalty

Art. II.34, no. 4

Disciplinary measures

Art. II.34, no. 5

Economic, financial or commercial interests of public authorities

Art. II.35, no. 1

Judicial procedure

Art. II.35, no. 4

Confidentiality of public authority processes

Art. II.35, no. 5

Public order and security

Art. II.35, no. 6

Protection of the environment

Art. II.36, § 1, second paragraph, nos. 2, 3, 4, 8, 9, 10 and 11

Exceptions no longer applicable if the document is older than 50 years

Obligation of confidentiality

Art. II.34, no. 1

Confidential information provided by third parties

Art. II.34, no. 6

International relations

Art. II.35, no. 2

Confidentiality of commercial and industrial information

Art. II.35, no. 3

Protection of the environment

Art. II.36, § 1, second paragraph, nos. 5, 6 and 7

Exceptions no longer applicable if the document is older than 120 years

Protection of privacy

Art. II.34, no. 2, and Art. II.36, § 1, second paragraph, no. 1

Access requests for scientific research

Researchers from universities, colleges or recognised research institutes may granted exceptional access to administrative records of the Flemish government even if they are still undisclosed and subject to access restrictions. In order to submit an access request for scientific purposes, applicants must fulfil a number of conditions (for example providing a proof of identity) prescribed in article 1 of the Flemish decree on requests for scientific publications. Article 3 of this decree stipulates the criteria assessed by the public authorities. These include the scientific purpose of the research and the manner of processing personal information.

Access right and copyright

Many issues regarding access rights also pertain to copyrights. It is not true that users cannot access documents that are still protected by certain rights. In principle, copyrights do not infringe on access rights. Users can freely access archives that are public, for example, because access restrictions no longer apply or because the user holds all necessary access rights, in which case access cannot be denied on the basis of applicable copyrights. This applies to photographs, works of art and other documents that are the fruit of creative work. Access to documents subject to copyright indeed remains possible without restriction. While archive services may provide copies of documents they hold, it is the duty of the requesting user to contact any potential copyright owner or collective rights management organisation in order to clarify pertaining rights if the copies in questions are intended for publication. The author or holder of rights may actually be the archive service itself. e-Procurement