PhD defenses 2023

Attend a PhD defense or consult past defenses

De gevolgen van de vernietiging door het Hof van Cassatie. Een analyse in het licht van de taak van het hoogste rechtscollege - Lauranne Claus (13/6/2023)

Doctoraatsverdediging Lauranne Claus

  • 13 juni 2023 - 17 uur
  • Promotoren: prof. dr. Stefan Rutten & prof. dr. Beatrix Vanlerberghe
  • Om de verdediging bij te wonen, kan u zich hier inschrijven.

Abstract (English version below)

Als hoogste rechtscollege heeft het Hof van Cassatie een drieledige opdracht: het bieden van rechtsbescherming, het waarborgen van rechtseenheid en het bevorderen van de rechtsontwikkeling. Deze laatste twee elementen worden ook aangeduid als de normatieve taak van het Hof. Het is deze taak die het Hof onderscheidt van de ‘gewone’ rechtscolleges.

Aangezien de meerwaarde van het hoogste rechtscollege gelegen is in de normatieve taak, is er een internationale tendens merkbaar tot versterking van de normatieve taak van de hoogste rechtscolleges.

Het proefschrift heeft tot doel te onderzoeken of de gevolgen van een vernietigingsarrest door het Hof van Cassatie in burgerlijke zaken onder het huidig recht in overeenstemming zijn met de normatieve rol van het Hof van Cassatie.

Het Hof van Cassatie is gelet op zijn bijzondere taak geen derde aanleg. Bij het uitoefenen van zijn opdracht treedt het Hof niet in de beoordeling van de zaken zelf. Het beoordeelt niet de vordering van partijen, maar de rechterlijke uitspraak. Bijgevolg stelt het Hof van Cassatie geen eigen beoordeling van het geschil in de plaats, maar vernietigt het enkel de rechterlijke uitspraak in zoverre deze niet in overeenstemming is met de wet.

Indien een beslissing wordt vernietigd, rijst bijgevolg de vraag welke rechter na vernietiging opnieuw uitspraak zal doen over de vordering van partijen en wat de concrete omvang van de vernietiging is. Men kan zich bijvoorbeeld afvragen welke beslissingen vernietigd worden en of partijen na vernietiging nog het recht hebben om nieuwe feiten of middelen aan te voeren. 

Hoewel het Hof van Cassatie geenszins een derde aanleg is, leidt de vernietiging er in de praktijk meestal wel toe dat de rechtzoekende zijn zaak (minstens gedeeltelijk) voor een derde maal behandeld zal zien. Aangezien de gevolgen van de vernietiging bepalen binnen welke grenzen het geschil opnieuw beoordeeld wordt, is dit één van de elementen die meespelen in de afweging om al dan niet cassatieberoep in te stellen. Op die manier bepalen de gevolgen van de vernietiging mee de mate waarin het Hof van Cassatie kan focussen op zijn normatieve taak.

Het onderzoek stelt een aantal aanbevelingen voor omtrent de gevolgen van de vernietiging die de normatieve taak van het Hof van Cassatie verder zouden kunnen versterken, zonder hierbij afbreuk te doen aan de beginselen van behoorlijke rechtspleging. Meer bepaald worden de aanbevelingen geformuleerd rekening houdend met het rechtszekerheidsbeginsel, het recht op tegenspraak, de proceseconomie, het beschikkingsbeginsel en de beleidsvrijheid van de rechter.


English version

As the highest court, the Belgian Supreme Court has a threefold mission: providing legal protection, ensuring legal unity and promoting legal development. These last two aspects are also referred to as the normative task of the Court. It is this task that distinguishes the Court from 'ordinary' courts.

Since the added value of the highest court lies in its normative task, there is an international trend towards strengthening the normative task of the highest courts.

The thesis aims to examine whether the consequences of a annulment by the Supreme Court in civil cases under current law are in line with the normative role of the Belgian Supreme Court.

The Belgian Supreme Court is not a third instance given its particular remit. In exercising its role, the Court does not enter into the assessment of the cases themselves. It assesses not the parties' claim, but the judicial decision. Consequently, the Belgian Supreme Court does not impose its own assessment of the dispute, but only annuls the court decision to the extent that it does not comply with the law.

Consequently, if a decision is annulled, the question arises as to which court will rule again on the parties' claim and what the concrete scope of the annulment is. One may ask, for example, which decisions are annulled and whether the parties are still entitled to raise new facts or pleas after annulment. 

Although the Belgian Supreme Court is by no means a third instance, in practice, annulment does usually result in the litigant seeing his case heard (at least in part) for a third time. Since the consequences of an annulment determine the limits within which the dispute will be re-judged, this is one of the elements that play a role in deciding whether or not to lodge an appeal in cassation. In this way, the consequences of annulment help determine the extent to which the Belgian Court of Cassation can focus on its normative task.

The study proposes a number of recommendations regarding the consequences of an annulment that could further strengthen the normative role of the Belgian Court of Cassation, without prejudice to the principles of due process. More specifically, the recommendations are formulated taking into account the principle of legal certainty, the adversarial principle, procedural economy, the principle of party autonomy and the court's freedom of policy.

Use of and Access to Land for Peaceful Transformation. A socio-legal Perspective on Human Rights of Indigenous Women of the Cochabamba Upper Valley (8/6/2023)

PhD defense Celeste Quiroga Eróstegui 

  • 8 June 2023 - 5 p.m.
  • Supervisor: prof. dr. Koen De Feyter (University of Antwerrp)
  • You can attend the defense either in person or online; pre-registration is necessary and can be done via this link


In the course of the evolution and development of international human rights law, States have responded to different moments in human history and especially to their political agenda. In this order, both the history of women in law as well as an agenda of their own have been postponed.

The recognition of human rights of indigenous peoples has broadened the individual understanding of rights aiming at a renovated perception of collective human rights. Even though this could be considered the most transformative change in human rights law since its creation, assumptions surrounding the law-making process and the fulfillment of collective rights replicate power dynamics and social exclusion. This situation affects women in general, especially indigenous women, who have an integrated identity marked by different and simultaneous systems of oppression that intersect their lives. Nevertheless, their lives together with their active participation in society remain as subsidiaries in the Bolivian law-making process.

Through the analysis of the Bolivian State's political agenda on collective rights, this Ph.D. research focuses on women's right to access to land. Tools such as Theater of the Oppressed, co-creation of timelines and social mapping are applied from existing methodological strategies of action-participation/training with women from economic peasant organizations (OECAS by their initials in Spanish).

The results allow us to contrast the value of local views and actions of organized peasant indigenous women with similarities in their agenda priorities and collaborative work strategies, even when they overcome obstacles determined by patriarchal/state social mandates. This local advocacy proves to be essential to directly improve the exercise of rights of women, their families, and communities. The short-term results suggest a political incidence that can transcend to the international level, resolving and transforming conflicts peacefully together with the action from a particular and protagonist perspective of indigenous women, as essential characteristics.

Conflicts between the fields of private international law and children’s rights law. The case of international child abduction (2/6/2023)

PhD defense Tine Van Hof


In international child abduction cases, instruments from both the private international law field and the children’s rights law field are applicable. The different approach of those instruments regarding the concept of the best interests of the child - focussing on the best interests in abstracto versus in concreto – results in a potential conflict between the two fields. This potential conflict can be reinforced or can materialise and lead to actual conflict, if the inter-/supranational courts belonging to, respectively, the private international law field and the children’s rights law field apply the instruments in a strict fashion.

The thesis investigates this relationship between private international law and children’s rights law in the context of international child abduction cases and aims to find a way to address the conflicts resulting from this relationship. To reach this aim, this thesis looks through the lens of the theoretical framework of the diversification and expansion of international law. This framework is used both to explain and to address the conflicts that occur between the two fields at issue. To address conflicts between fields of law, the theoretical framework of the diversification and expansion of international law offers several tools (nine tools were identified). The thesis classifies these tools into four categories (coordination, hierarchy, priority, and harmony) and explores whether they might be useful to address the conflicts between the two fields at issue. For the three tools that were considered useful (namely comity, formal dialogue and systemic treaty interpretation), the thesis further explores (i) whether these tools are used by the relevant actors in the context of international child abduction, and (ii) whether they are apt to address the conflicts. For this assessment, the thesis analysed the case law of the CJEU, the ECtHR, the Committee on the Rights of the Child and of five national jurisdictions (Belgium, England & Wales, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Switzerland) by using NVivo (722 cases in total).

The thesis concludes that the tools of formal dialogue and systemic treaty interpretation offer ways to address the conflicts between the fields of private international law and children’s rights law that occur in international child abduction cases. Based on these results, the thesis proposes some recommendations, addressed to lawmakers, implementing organs and inter-/supranational and domestic courts, to ensure non-conflictual relationships between different fields of law.

Comparative Constitutional Design For Divided Societies: A Model To Explain Constitutional Asymmetries (29/5/2023)

PhD defense Lidia Bonifati

  • 29 May 2023 - 9 a.m.
  • Supervisors: prof. dr. Patricia Popelier (University of Antwerp) & Prof. dr. Susanna Mancini (Università de Bologna)
  • Joint PhD Università di Bologna & University of Antwerp - Public defense at Università di Bologna; the defense can be attended online via this link.


Comparative studies on constitutional design for divided societies indicate that there is no magic formula or one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges that these societies pose, as lots of factors influence constitutional design. In the literature on asymmetric federalism, the introduction of constitutional asymmetries is considered a flexible instrument of ethnic conflict resolution, as it provides a mixture of the two main theoretical approaches to constitutional design for divided societies (i.e., integration and accommodation). Indeed, constitutional asymmetries are a complex and multifaceted phenomenon, as their degree of intensity can vary across constitutional systems, and there are both legal and extra-legal factors that may explain such differences.

This thesis argues that constitutional asymmetries provide a flexible model of constitutional design and aims to explore the legal factors that are most likely to explain the different degrees of constitutional asymmetry in divided multi-tiered systems. To this end, the research adopts a qualitative methodology, i.e., Qualitative Comparative Analysis (QCA), which allows an understanding of whether a condition or combination of conditions (i.e., the legal factors) determine the outcome (i.e., high, medium, low degree of constitutional asymmetry, or constitutional symmetry). The QCA is conducted on 16 divided multi-tiered systems, and for each case, the degree of constitutional asymmetry was analyzed by employing standardized indexes on subnational autonomy along three dimensions (i.e., status, powers, fiscal arrangements), allowing for a more precise measure of constitutional asymmetry than has previously been provided in the literature on asymmetric federalism.

Overall, the research confirms the complex nature of constitutional asymmetries, as the degrees of asymmetries vary substantially not only across systems but also within cases among the dimensions of subnational autonomy. The outcome of the Qualitative Comparative Analysis also confirms a path of complex causality since the different degrees of constitutional asymmetry always depend on several legal factors, that combined produce a low, medium, or high degree of constitutional asymmetry or, conversely, constitutional symmetry.

The relevance of the implications of the research is a product of the fact that many divided multi-tiered systems are in the European Union (both Member States and prospective members), and many others are located in deeply unstable regions of the world, such as the Middle East (e.g., Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan). Therefore, scholars and policymakers may need a new perspective to deal effectively with the challenges raised by divided societies, especially in a post-conflict environment.

Safety Cultivation. An integrative approach to improve organisational safety culture - Karolien van Nunen (14/3/2023)

PhD defense Karolien van Nunen - PhD in Safety Sciences

  • 14 March 2023 - 5 p.m.
  • Supervisors: prof. dr. Koen Ponnet (Ghent University & University of Antwerp) & prof. dr. ir. Genserik Reniers (Delft University of Technology & University of Antwerp)
  • Please confirm your attendance at the defense via this link.


A plethora of scientific and practical research has already been conducted in the field of safety culture, but still no consensus has been reached on its definition and content. In general, safety culture research lacks a transdisciplinary approach. Furthermore, although the concept of safety culture is characterised by complexity, the safety culture concept has been characterised by reductionism, where models and theories simplify the concept in order to better grasp it, leading to confined approaches. This research wants to contribute to the field of safety culture research by developing an integrative theoretical and practical framework for organisational safety culture using a transdisciplinary approach, and by taking into account the needs of the work field. The developed integrative theoretical framework acknowledges the multifacetedness of the concept safety culture by taking into account technological, organisational or contextual, and human aspects as interacting and interrelating elements. The theoretical framework has been converted into an applied assessment instrument, namely the ‘Integrated Safety Culture Assessment’, abbreviated ISCA, where the ‘assessment’ refers to its practical usability. Within ISCA, an important dichotomy is present, namely non-observable (subjective) factors, and observable (objective) factors constituting the organisational safety culture. Questionnaires are used to map or ‘diagnose’ the non-observable part of ISCA, i.e. the perceptual and psychological domain of safety culture. To measure the observable part of ISCA, an approach to compose company-specific safety indicators has been developed. Key in this approach is the sequence of follow-up when assessing indicators, and the focus on quality rather than quantity. By using company-specific safety indicators, the specific needs and context of a company is taken into account. The practical rendition of ISCA can be used to map the safety culture of an organisation (by a quantitative scan using the aforementioned questionnaires and safety indicators, followed by a qualitative in-depth analysis) and to formulate recommendations in this regard, with the ultimate goal of bringing about a change towards a positive safety culture. When using ISCA, safety culture is assessed in an integrative way, by using a variety of research methods involving the entire organisation (when determining the safety culture, but also when validating results and when formulating and implementing improvement strategies). The output of the doctoral research has been developed in close collaboration with the key stakeholders as regards safety culture, namely safety professionals, the companies and their employees.

Effectiveness of the Indigenous Justice of Jach’a Karangas in the Framework of the Egalitarian and Plural Justice of Bolivia - Leonardo Villafuerte Philippsborn (15/2/2023)

PhD defense Leonardo Villafuerte Philippsborn

  • 15 February 2023 - 5 p.m.
  • Supervisors: prof. dr. Koen de Feyter (UAntwerpen) & Stefaan Smis (VUB)
  • Physical attendance, after prior registration via this link.
  • For online participation, please register here.


Law is planned to produce its effects on society. However, since the law belongs to "ought" instead of "is," the extent of its effects is a contingent event to a specific context. The existence and scope of the law's effects are fundamental for any society, especially for its governments, policymakers, and judges. Whilst specialized literature discusses and develops a conceptual framework of the effectiveness of legal norms or institutions, much less is known about the effectiveness of rights.

This research aims to propose a rights' effectiveness methodological framework and employ it in a case study. To this end, the indigenous collective right to exercise jurisdiction, i.e., applying indigenous law in dispute resolution, was selected concerning the Aymara indigenous people "Nación Originaria Suyu Jach'a Karangas" (JK) in the egalitarian justice system of the Plurinational State of Bolivia between 2009 and 2019.

Analyzing rights' effectiveness within the dissertation's conceptual framework involves assessing the extent of the right holder's proposed achievements through three crucial elements: a cause, a planned effect, and the actual effects attained. The contrast of such effects results in the effectiveness assessment: if the actual effect achieved is similar to the planned effect, the right is effective; if it exceeds expectations, it is more effective; and, conversely, to the extent that it is less than the planned effect, it will be less effective or ineffective. As a result, considering that JK aims to have the possibility to resolve or contribute to resolving indigenous disputes among its members and that Bolivia has a relatively favorable legal framework that allows JK to decide a broad range of cases with binding effects on its members and state's institutions, it is possible to conclude that its jurisdictional exercise is moderately effective. JK often successfully resolves its members' disputes by exercising its jurisdiction when it is within its reach. JK sometimes also exhibits its compelling will in exercising its jurisdiction with more effectiveness, demonstrating it conserves a healthy margin of legal irreverence and its interest in remaining and continuing as a self-determining and autonomous indigenous people. Furthermore, JK is learning to assert its jurisdictional prerogatives against its duty bearers, that is, its members and the Bolivian ordinary and agri-environmental jurisdictions, through legal actions before the Bolivian Plurinational Constitutional Court, which has a growing trend to make the indigenous justice effective and, occasionally, more effective.

De feitelijke bestuurder - Alexander Snyers (23/1/2023)

Doctoraatsverdediging Alexander Snyers

  • 23 januari 2023 - 17 uur
  • Prolmotor: prof. dr. Robby Houben
  • Voor fysieke deelname aan de verdediging, registreer hier.
  • Wenst u de verdediging online bij te wonen, meldt u hier aan.

Abstract (English version below)

In 2019 vaardigde de Belgische wetgever een hertekend regime inzake bestuurdersaansprakelijkheid uit in een nieuw Wetboek van vennootschappen en verenigingen (“WVV”). In de context van dat nieuwe regime opteerde hij ervoor om niet langer enkel formeel benoemde leden van een bestuursorgaan in het vizier te nemen, maar ook zogenaamde feitelijke bestuurders. Zij worden in artikel 2:56 WVV omschreven als “alle andere personen die ten aanzien van de rechtspersoon werkelijke bestuursbevoegdheid hebben of hebben gehad”. Artikel 2:56, lid 1, eerste zin WVV bepaalt dat zij, net als hun formeel benoemde evenknieën, aansprakelijk zijn voor fouten begaan “in de uitoefening van hun opdracht”. Artikel 2:143 WVV stipuleert verder dat rechtsvorderingen wegens verrichtingen “in verband met hun taak”, net zoals t.a.v. de formeel benoemde leden van een bestuursorgaan, verjaren door verloop van vijf jaren. Deze normering is bijzonder opmerkelijk. Immers, dient er voor feitelijk bestuur juist geen feitelijke inmenging te zijn, los van of buiten iedere opdracht of taak om?      

De ingreep van de Belgische wetgever is conceptueel allesbehalve duidelijk te noemen. Daarom werd de  volgende centrale onderzoeksvraag geformuleerd: “Wat is de precieze draagwijdte van de normering rond de feitelijke bestuurder in het WVV en heeft de wetgever er goed aan gedaan om die normering in het WVV op te nemen?”.

Uit het onderzoek blijkt dat er over de precieze draagwijdte van de normering (het gaat dan in het bijzonder om de praktische toepassing van de eerder genoemde artikelen 2:56 en 2:143 WVV, maar ook het daarmee samenhangende artikel 2:57 WVV (de cap op aansprakelijkheid), op de feitelijke bestuurder) verschillende opvattingen zijn ontstaan in de rechtsleer. Ondanks deze controverse heeft de wetgever er toch niet slecht aan gedaan om haar in het WVV op te nemen. Een rechtsvergelijkende analyse legt bloot dat normering inzake feitelijk bestuur in de basiswetgeving inzake vennootschappen een belangrijke preventieve functie (oftewel: een ontradend effect) heeft, of toch op zijn minst kan hebben. Deze functie gaat in het WVV op heden grotendeels verloren. Er worden een aantal concrete voorstellen gedaan tot wijziging van de tekst van de artikelen 2:56, 2:143 en 2:57 WVV om hieraan tegemoet te komen. Voor enkele WVV-bepalingen die vandaag duidelijk geen toepassing op de feitelijke bestuurder vinden (met name artikel 2:58 WVV (het verbod op exoneratie of vrijwaring) en de artikelen 5:104, 6:89 en 7:157 WVV (de minderheidsvordering), luidt het advies om hen evenzeer op hem toepasselijk te verklaren


English version

The de facto director

In 2019, the Belgian legislator introduced a revised regime on directors’ liability in a new Companies and Associations Code (“CAC”). In the context of that new regime, he opted to not only target formally appointed members of a governing body, but also so-called de facto directors. They are defined in Article 2:56 CAC as “all other persons who have or have had actual governing power with regard to the legal person”. Article 2:56(1), first sentence CAC stipulates that they, like their formally appointed counterparts, are liable for errors committed “in the performance of their mission”. Article 2:143 CAC further stipulates that legal claims for actions undertaken “in relation to their task” are, just like legal claims against formally appointed members of a governing body, time-barred after five years. This normative approach is quite remarkable. After all, doesn’t de facto governance require a de facto interference, independent of or beyond any mission or task?

The intervention of the Belgian legislator is conceptually far from clear. Therefore, the following central research question was formulated: “What is the exact scope of the CAC provisions concerning the de facto director and did the legislator do right by introducing these provisions?”.

The research shows that different views have emerged in legal doctrine on the exact scope of the provisions (notably on the practical application to the de facto director of the aforementioned Articles 2:56 and 2:143 CAC, as well as Article 2:57 CAC (the cap on liability), which is closely related thereto). Despite this controversy, the legislator was not wrong to introduce them in the CAC. A comparative legal analysis reveals that norms or provisions on de facto governance in general company legislation fulfil, or can fulfil, an important preventive function (i.e., they have a dissuasive effect). In the current text of the CAC, this function is largely absent. A number of substantive proposals for amendments to the text of Articles 2:56, 2:143 and 2:57 CAC are made to address this issue. For some CAC provisions that, at present, clearly do not apply to the de facto director (notably Article 2:58 CAC (the ban on exoneration or indemnification) and Articles 5:104, 6:89 and 7:157 CAC (the derivative claim), the recommendation is to also extent their scope of application to the de facto director.

Deep Seabed Mining in the Area: Investment Protection and the Common Heritage of Mankind - Alberto Pecoraro (19/1/2023)

PhD defense Alberto Pecoraro

  • 19 January 2023 - 5 p.m.
  • Supervisor: prof. dr. Koen de Feyter
  • Physical attendance, after prior registration via this link.
  • For online participation, please register here.


The international seabed’s designation as common heritage of mankind (or CHM) raises numerous fascinating legal issues. One crucial question is how to strike the correct balance between the protection of the private rights held by deep seabed mining operators and the achievement of the collective goals embodied in the CHM principle. Considering the risks inherent in deep seabed mining and the glaring gaps in scientific knowledge about the international seabed, the International Seabed Authority and sponsoring states may be required to modify the regulatory framework applicable to exploration and exploitation activities in the international seabed. However, whereas the law of the sea confers on them the authority to regulate, it also constrains their discretion. Additionally, national regulators will need to be mindful of rules of international investment law. These feature in national legislations and in investment contracts between sponsoring states and deep seabed mining operators.

Towards a legal paradigm of animal dignity - Eva Bernet Kempers (11/1/2023)

PhD defense Eva Bernet Kempers

  • 11 January 2023 -  5 p.m.
  • Supervisors: prof. dr. Frederik Swennen & dr. Johan Van de Voorde


The legal approach towards animals in continental Europe falls short. Animals are regarded as objects of law, classified according to their use-category, but at the same time increasingly protected by animal protection acts. This ambiguity creates a growing number of inconsistencies and incoherencies, hindering the adequate application and enforcement of the law addressing animals. Sometimes, animals are treated as equal to inanimate objects, but other times, they are taken into account for their own sakes, and their interests may override the interests of humans. In absence of a central foundation, the legal approach towards animals remains fragmentary and dispersed.

The traditional argument for animal rights maintains that animals need to be recognized as legal persons with fundamental rights. Animals are perceived as the last group of beings that should be saved from arbitrary discrimination on the basis of an irrelevant characteristic: their species. By pointing to the similarities between humans and other species, the traditional view aims to demonstrate that there is no justification to exclude (other) animals from having rights. Organizations such as the Nonhuman Rights Project initiate legal cases ‘in name of’ certain animals, aiming to liberate animals from their property-status by having courts recognize their personhood. The idea is that the revolution to animal legal personhood would bring all animal exploitation to an end.

This PhD-thesis explores an alternative road to improve the legal approach towards animals through the concept of animal dignity. Contrary to the traditional view, this alternative approach is specifically tailored to continental law in which change will have to go primarily through the legislature. It demonstrates how, informed by the capabilities theory of Martha Nussbaum, animal dignity can form a central foundation for the law addressing animals that does not start from the premise that animals should be turned into legal persons first. Through a comparative study of a selection of European jurisdictions, it becomes clear that animal dignity is increasingly recognized, implicitly as well as explicitly, for instance by making animals beneficiaries of legal obligations, and distinguishing them from legal things. Based on the analysis, the thesis proposes a set of recommendations on how to increase respect for animal dignity in continental law. Rather than assuming that animals’ status as property needs to be abolished in order to adequately protect them, the approach based in animal dignity aims to ensure the respectful treatment of animals as flourishing individuals throughout the legal system.