Van Parys was born in 1951 in Ghent and studied law at the university there, graduating with distinction in 1974 before taking a second degree in 1975 in criminology. He was admitted to the bar in 1978 and elected to Ghent city council in 1983 and the federal parliament in 1985.
His style is more academic than populist (he lectures in penal policy at the University of Leuven and chairs the management board of Arteveld university college in Ghent) and he only really became a familiar figure on the national scene when he became a member in 1996 of the special parliamentary commission looking into the investigation of the crimes of Marc Dutroux. At that time, the country was in the grip of a mass outrage that such a series of crimes could have been allowed to take place under the noses of police and magistrates.
Van Parys, however, differed from many of his fellow commissioners. Where they often gave the impression of trying to outdo the righteous rage of the others, he preferred a more analytic approach, and his questions and interventions were all the more effective for coming from the head rather than the belly or the heart.
Dutroux was also behind Van Parys’s only elevation to ministerial office: When he escaped briefly from police custody in April 1998, the incident led to the resignation of Stefaan De Clerck as justice minister. De Clerck was replaced by Van Parys, his party colleague, and he served as justice minister until the following year.
“Politics has been a major part of my life,” he told De Gentenaar. “I’ve always enjoyed the combination of local and federal work, and I look back on it with pleasure. I’m now entering the last active phase of my life, and I want to concentrate on matters that excite me. Justice has always been my speciality, and I can occupy myself with that intensely in the High Council. It’s going to be an exciting time.”