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23 janvier 2013

Brussels School of Jurisprudence

For decades, the teaching, research and thought on law at the Université Libre de Bruxelles have commanded respect through their specificity, excellence and the importance of their practical contribution to the developments of law. To the present day, especially abroad, this specificity goes under the name of the “Brussels School of Jurisprudence”.

The name “Brussels School of Jurisprudence” originated in the 1960s, in the wake of the work of Chaïm Perelman, Paul Foriers and the great positivist professors of law who were participating actively in their work, such as Walter Ganshof van der Meersch, Robert Legros and many others. However, the movement had been driven previously by the masters of this generation, who had enthusiastically embraced the European movement for the reform of legal ideas, known as “free scientific research”, with the future dean, Paul Vander Eycken and Henri de Page in particular. These new ideas resounded deeply with the philosophy of the Université Libre de Bruxelles and in particular with the positivism, pluralism and pragmatism developed by Eugène Dupréel, Perelman’s master and inspiration.
In law, it was a question of turning one’s back on a fixed and abstract conception in order to favour the study of living law and its development in social life, as is revealed in its practice and by case examination, especially in jurisprudence. High flying practitioners, eminent lawyers and senior magistrates, who were taking on the roles of professor in the Faculty of Law of the Université Libre de Bruxelles, radically reformed the methods for the teaching of law and for the training of future lawyers in this direction, namely through courses that henceforth were to centre on case studies and legal judgments, the creation of practical exercises by René Marcq from 1920 and work in the form of practical consultation, which placed the emphasis on legal argumentation and adversarial debate. Centres of research were created that enabled the development of collective research and supplied the frameworks and the means necessary for the training and perpetuation of a true school of thought. In civil law, the lawyers of the Brussels School inspired considerable innovations in, amongst other areas, the breach of law, the extension of the notion of damage, the responsibility of the public powers, the theories of cause, appearance, lapse and certainties arising from practice etc. They redeveloped this fundamental material completely through their renowned jurisprudence examinations, particularly in the critical Revue created by Marcq, and by major works of reference from the elementary Treatise of Belgian civil law of De Page and Dekkers to Pierre Van Ommeslaghe’s recent Law of obligations. Their constant attention to practice enabled them to free the principles of commercial law and to impose autonomy on them, with Jean Van Ryn and today, with Xavier Dieux, to rethink their sources and
logic within the context of the transformations of globalisation. In criminal law, the major theses of Robert Legros on the moral element and those of Paul Foriers on the condition of necessity profoundly transformed the conception of offence and the philosophy itself of this discipline. In public law, Ganshof van der Meersch introduced via the Court of Cassation important theses from the Brussels School of Jurisprudence into positivist law and initially the general principles of law. He also enabled control by the courts and tribunals of the conformity of the laws with international and European rules and enlisted the movement that was to lead to the control of their constitutionality. Founder of the Institute of European Studies of the Université Libre de Bruxelles and the senior Belgian Judge to the European Court of the Rights of Man, he contributed, along with others in the conquest of Europe, to launching the Brussels School. For the Brussels School never limited either its audience or its action on national law but, on the contrary, opened itself up to the world at large. Jacques Vanderlinden, anthropologist, comparison specialist and legal historian, worked on three continents. He is one of the leading theoreticians of legal pluralism, a notion that is considered central to realistic, sociological and pragmatic approaches to contemporary law. Jean Salmon, who actively participated in Perelman’s seminars, allied the theses of the Brussels School in an original way with those of the Reims School, in order to impose, along with his disciples of the international law Centre, a rigorous and vigorous method in international law, which was based at the same time on the awareness of power battles and on the mobilisation of the arsenal of legal argumentation, the practical efficacy of which is measured regularly through the international Court of Justice. As for the disciples of Perelman himself, within the Centre of the Philosophy of law that bears his name, they prolong the Brussels School’s pragmatic approach in the study of a global law that is in formation.
The purpose of the 2013 Perelman Centre Cycle of conferences is to study the Brussels School of Jurisprudence and its conception of the law, at the outset of its achievements and those of its great personalities, about which the few lines above only give a very sparse and extremely partial idea. It is a question of highlighting, on the basis of the analysis of works and their authors, relationships that they maintain, innovations that they have contributed within the domains of the teaching, research and practice of law, the points of convergence and opposition between them, the elements and principles of a specific conception of the law and the reasons for its success and dynamism. Although the aim of this research is scientific and not hagiographic, it is also indeed about taking a reflexive step which, in reconsidering what has already been built, must enable a clearer picture of what today still forms the identity of the Brussels School and to understand its programme and objectives within a context where both the law and the university have entered a phase of accelerated transformations.

Responsable du comité éditorial :

Centre Perelman de Philosophie du Droit de l’Université libre de Bruxelles
CP 132 - Av. F. D. Roosevelt 50 - 1050 Bruxelles
Tel. 02/650 38 84 - Fax 02/650 40 07 - e-mail