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Getting a criminal record (my own)

Residents of Anglo-Saxon and Celtic jurisdictions may not be familiar with the concept of a certificate to confirm your criminal record, or preferably the lack thereof. In countries with a more Napoleonic tradition of bureaucracy, where residents must register at the town hall (rather than the charming British/Irish/American tradition of leaving each local authority to guess at the size of its population between censuses), one of the many official documents that one may need and can usually get is what’s called in Flanders the “uittreksel van de strafregister”, an extract from the criminal register which hopefully will demonstrate that you are not on it.

As it happens, I need such an “uittreksel” at the moment, to satisfy a non-Belgian (but European and Napoleonically bureaucratic) potential client that I am not a wrong’un; this is the last step in what has been a long process of finalising a decently large contract, and it’s understandable that the client wants reassurance about the credentials of our team.

So I checked the website of the local police station, as I vaguely remember going there for a similar purpose many years ago. The website is fairly clear on how I can get the “uittreksel”:
It basically says you get your “uittreksel” at the town hall. So I checked my town hall’s website.

OK, this is a bit worrying. The paragraph starts with boilerplate languge about how in Belgium you can request the “uittreksel” from the town hall; but then it says that in our municipality, you go to the police. Whose website, if you recall, says you should go to the town hall.

And lower down, it says that if you need the “uittreksel” to send it to another country, you have to go to the Federal Ministry of Justice instead. You do have to state why you need the “uittreksel”, and as I said the fact is that I need to send it to a foreign client (well, almost client - this is literally the last thing they need before they sign the contract).

OK, so I consulted the Federal Ministry of Justice website. Guess what it says?


Yes, the Federal Ministry of Justice site says that you go to the town hall, whether or not you need the “uittreksel” for Belgium or for another country. No mention of going to the police.

So I went to the town hall, since the other two both said that was the way to go. It's not massively convenient, as it's in the next village, but I was working from home anyway. The town hall told me that they don't issue “uittreksels” at present; they will be responsible for issuing them from 1 January, but until then I needed to talk to the police across the road.

So I went to the police. Our municipality is the fourth richest of the 589 in Belgium, so crime levels are correspondingly low; and the duty officer greeted me cordially. I mentioned that I needed the “uittreksel” for a foreign client, but he did not seem interested beyond the fact that it was for professional purposes (“Beroepsdoeleinden”) and typed it all up in about two and a half minutes.

Belgium. Glorious, sometimes.

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