Courts of Germany
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The judiciary, that is, the judges and Courts of Germany are independent. They are not controlled by the Federal Government or the State Governments. There are laws which say what sort of cases the courts can hear and pass judgment on, and what type of punishment a court can give. But no law or minister can say that a person is guilty. Only the courts can do this.
Courts give protection to ordinary people from bad governments, they are also protected from bad governments themselves.
[change] Protection of people by the courts
Germany has had free courts for longer than it has been a democracy, although under the Nazis many judges ignored the law and did what the Nazi Party wanted. This is why they were tried at the Nuremberg Judges Trial
Germany is a Rechtsstaat. That means it is a government based on law. All citizens are guaranteed to be equal, and government decisions can be challenged in court.
No law or minister can say that a person, or group of people is guilty.
[change] Protection of courts from the government
Federal law sets out the structure of the judiciary. Running courts is up to the Länder. The Länder (States of Germany) are run the lower levels of the court system; only the highest courts are paid for by the federal government.
This federal-Land split means that the Federation (that is, the Federal Government) can make sure laws are enforced equally throughout the country, because it says what courts must be set up. The Länder administer the courts, and this stops the federal government from being able to order the courts to do things, or to appoint the judges. This helps keep the courts independent.
[change] Legal system
In a common law system courts rely on precedents (what was decided in similar cases earlier) . In Germany, courts look to a comprehensive system of legal codes. The codes set out legal principles or basic ideas, and have to decide each case by comparing the facts of the case to those principles, not to what another judges decided earlier.
[change] Training judges
Because the legal codes are very important and complicated, judges must be very well trained.
Judges are not chosen from practising lawyers, as in the UK and USA. Instead being a judge is a separate career
At the end of their legal education at university, all law students must pass a state examination before they can continue on to an apprenticeship that provides them with broad training in the legal profession over two years. They then must pass a second state examination that qualifies them to practice law. After the second exam a person must choose either to be a lawyer or to be a judge.
Those who choose to be a judge start working at courts immediately. However they are on probation (a temporary training period) for up to four years before being appointed as judges for lifetime.
[change] The Court System
Germany has three types of courts.
- Ordinary courts
- These courts deal with criminal and most civil cases.
- Specialized courts
- These courts hear cases related to
- social security
- tax and patent law.
- These courts hear cases related to
- Constitutional courts
- These courts do judicial review and interpret the constitution.
[change] Ordinary Courts
The are four levels of ordinary courts:
- At the lowest level are the local courts (Amtsgerichte; sing., Amtsgericht), which hear cases involving minor criminal offences or small civil suits. These courts also carry out routine legal functions, such as keeping the company register.
Most cases in the local courts are decided by a single judge. However, in criminal cases in which the sentence is expected to exceed two years, the professional judge is assisted by two part-time judges with equal rights as the professional judge (Schöffengericht).
There are 687 'Amtsgerichte'.
- Above the local courts are the regional courts (Landgerichte; sing., Landgericht).
These courts have two sections. One for major civil cases and the other for criminal cases. The regional courts have three judges for complicated cases, but most cases are heard by one judge.
Regional courts are courts of appeal for decisions from the local courts (for cases originating in local courts, this is the level of final appeal) and are the first courts most major civil and criminal cases would be heard in.
There are 116 Landgerichte.
- At the next level are Land appeals courts (Oberlandesgerichte; sing., Oberlandesgericht). These look at points of law raised in appeals from the lower courts. Oberlandesgerichte are the first court that cases of treason and anticonstitutional activity come to. There are 24 Oberlandesgerichte, as the larger states have two or more.
- The top level is the Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof) in Karlsruhe. It is the final court of appeals for all cases from the regional and appellate courts. No cases come straight to the Bundesgerichtshof.
[change] Specialised Courts
Specialized courts deal with administrative, labour, social, fiscal, and patent law.
- Administrative courts let people get compensation from the government for any harm caused by mistakes actions by officials. For instance, many lawsuits have been brought in administrative courts by citizens against the government concerning the location and safety standards of nuclear power plants.
- Labour courts hear disputes over collective bargaining agreements and working conditions.
- Social courts decide about arguments over social insurance, which includes unemployment compensation, workers' compensation, and social security payments.
- Finance, or fiscal, courts hear only tax-related cases and exist on two levels.
The is a Federal Patents Court in Munich adjudicates disputes relating to industrial property rights. Patents are a federal issue, so now state courts have been set up.
[change] Constitutional Courts
Each Land has a state constitutional court. These courts are administratively and financially independent from any other government body. For instance, a Land constitutional court can write its own budget and hire or fire employees.
These courts here cases where the constitution and the rights it gives are in question.
For example a criminal case might be appealled from the Bundesgerichtshof if a persons human rights are involved.
The Federal Constitutional Court, the Bundesverfassungsgericht, can check that the way other courts look at the law to make sure they do not forget these basic rights. Sometimes the Federal Constitutional Court has overturned the decisions of other federal courts.
The Bundesverfassungsgericht protects people's rights under the constitution in another way. It is the only court that can ban a political party, if it is acting or says it will act against the constitution
|Courts of Germany|
|Ordinary||687||116 Regional||24 Higher Regional||Bundesgerichtshof||828|